I was a smart, modern girl. I combined good looks and a sharp brain. I disconnected myself early from my family who were undistinguished and scraped a living on a small holding, too afraid to move on. I made a good living and I had many good friends who I used to my advantage. I was popular, well liked, and had many lovely romances; but somehow a great love was never part of my great scheme, until I met Mark.
He bred horses and farmed outside Bergspruit; a town in the Northern Cape.
I was a newcomer to this town and had just started a new job. I was determined from the start to enjoy myself. I joined the riding club, since riding was my passion since childhood, and there I met a man of my expectations.
I fell for the man, and was determined to conquer his heart. I soon realized that the way to do this was through his horses; especially his American saddler called, “Storm.”
Mark was convinced that I would not be able to handle him, but he soon became so impressed with my skills that he proposed that I should ride his stallion at the gymkhana competition (which was part of the annual agricultural show in Bergspruit.) At that moment I had a feeling that I was on my way to win his heart.
It was the last day of the show, and it seemed that the entire population of Bergspruit had come along to watch the riding competitions. The show ground looked festive, and the stadium was packed with people. The day was perfect, though later in the afternoon a few clouds had appeared on the horizon and the wind started to blow hard swaying the decorative flags and balloons. I wore a smartly tailored black jacket, elegant breeches and a lovely hat. Storm was beautifully groomed and his mane was skillfully plaited. We both looked good.
I received my number (which was seven) and trotted towards the ring.
“Take care of my horse,” Mark waved us away.
“Don’t worry, we’re the winners,” I shouted back.
The competition had begun.
There were twelve of us competing, all women, and I noticed that most of them were riding mares, with a few ponies or geldings. I was the only one on a stallion, and my horse was the tallest and most imposing horse in the ring. One of the judges signaled for me to start riding; to trot, then to canter, and finally to gallop. I carried out the instructions with complete confidence; once, twice, three times I rode round the ring.
A young woman on a pony dropped out, then two others on Boerperde (or farm horses). After a few more minutes there were only two of us left. Storm continued to behave well, he changed paces without hesitation, and his canter was exceptionally comfortable. Sitting deep in the saddle I felt safe, as if I was in a cradle, and in complete unison with the horse. I held the reigns elegantly in my left hand, and held the flanks of the horse tightly between my thighs. I felt excitement growing, knowing that victory was in my grasp. I glanced at my opponent. The woman was slim and elegant, riding a superbly trained Arab mare. Next to my horse, the mare seemed small and somehow insignificant; particularly since I could see the woman riding the horse was nervous of him. Storm on the other hand, looked proud and a trifle excited at the proximity of the lovely Arab lady.
We were ordered to stop in front of the judges who walked around us and examined the horses. Then we had to trot again individually, and again we stopped in front of the stand. It became very quiet as every one waited for the final decision of the judges. Then some one shouted, “Well done, number seven.” I looked up, and in that moment I heard the rumble of thunder in the distance. The Arab mare twitched anxiously, and Storm gave a loud neigh, and without warning twisted sharply and ran to the mare. I gathered the reigns as short as I could, but it was too late. Storm was neighing softly and lovingly muzzling her all over as she tried to defend her virtue. She danced around him, kicking out at him but now he stretched his neck, pulling the reigns from my hands, and attempted to mount her. The woman hit the mare with her crop and off they went, round the ring at a gallop, while Storm, with me still in the saddle followed at top speed.
The spectators laughed, shouted and clapped. I lay on Storm’s neck, my mind paralyzed with fear, expecting to fall any moment.
All of a sudden, an elderly rider appeared in the ring. Galloping towards me he managed to obstruct my way. Storm slowed down and I managed to pull on the reigns and remain on the saddle. Then I saw an open gate in front of me and I directed the horse in that direction.
“Gallop, faster, faster,” I shouted to the horse. “Let’s run away from here,” I was shouting and crying hysterically.
Storm came to the main road, sniffed the air, and galloped on in the direction of Mark’s farm.
Dusk was falling when we reached the farm where Mark’s horses were grazing. The horses came running to welcome us, and Storm neighed in response.
I unsaddled Storm and let him free. I left the saddle and bridle under the tree and began to walk towards the town.
It was nearly dark when I felt the first drops of rain on my face. For the first time I was walking alone on the road in darkness. I did not know what to do. I lost my chance of gaining Mark’s affection. I brought shame and ridicule on myself. I lost confidence in myself. I felt so lonely and I thought of all my girl friends that were loved and protected by their husbands and lovers. I had also seen so many times (in the past) African women carrying their babies on their backs, men wrapped in blankets; whole families plodding along the road, as they drifted to another village or town. At night they would stop near some huts, or in the shelter of some trees and make a fire to cook their porridge and wait for dawn to come. How I envied their feeling of belonging to a big tribal family, which would always provide them with shelter and protection. And here was I, so very much alone. I also thought of my family. How would they react to me if I allowed myself to open my heart to them? I did not know for I had lost the feeling of belonging to them. All of a sudden I had a powerful feeling of longing for my kind hearted mother, and my father’s embrace.
The wind got up and then heavy, driving rain started to fall. Lightening tore open the sky, and for a moment I could see the veldt, the rocks, and the road ahead of me. I was running, stumbling, and crying with fright. I heard the sound of a car engine and I was blinded by strong lights. I jumped off the road, tripped on a stone and fell down into a patch of thorny bushes. My misery was complete.
The car stopped and a man’s head appeared in the window. “Christine, are you all right?”
Mark shouted through the deluge of rain. “Get in!”
I got up and ran to the car.
Mark started the engine. “I have searched for you everywhere. I saw Storm, thank God he is alright, and thank God you are alright,” he added hastily. “But above all, I owe you a big deal of gratitude. You have saved my wife, and our marriage as well.”
I looked at him blankly.
“The lady on the Arab mare was my wife. She is a champion rider and has just returned from overseas. She has always been terrified of Storm and has never ridden him before. We have reconciled our differences, but I’m afraid Storm has to go, any offers?” he added jokingly.
I acquired the American saddler half price and I took him home to my folks. I’m still there. I have been teaching riding and enjoying myself.
Going home was one of my best schemes.