Zoe ready to go extra furlong to make her jockey dream a reality
When you're glued to the Cheltenham Festival at three years of age it's a racing certainty that you'll go on to become a jockey.
And that's the case for Coleraine girl Zoe McMullan, who is hoping to be a player in the Sport of Kings in the not-too-distant future.
The 18-year-old student is on the brink of obtaining her official racing licence, but that is a formality for the horse-mad teen who first sat on one of the magnificent beasts when she was four.
Zoe wants to follow in the footsteps of her hero Nina Carberry, the record-breaking Irish female jockey.
"I've always been into horses and I get such a thrill from racing," the former pupil of Dunluce School in Bushmills said.
"I sat on a horse for the first time on holiday in Ayr, Scotland, when I was four and from then onwards I kept begging my parents for lessons until they finally gave in.
"My dad used to watch the racing on television, and I think that's what really got me into it."
Zoe, who is studying at the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE), made the transition from rocking horse to the real thing when she began visiting Coleraine's Island Equestrian Centre as a five-year-old.
But she didn't experience what it was like to sit on a genuine thoroughbred racehorse until she signed up for a course in horse management at CAFRE's Enniskillen campus in September 2015
"I got my own horse when I was 14 - an eight-year-old Connemara cross cob called Eva - and I do a bit of everything on her, mostly showjumping," she added.
"The riding I do is for fun; it's not competition-orientated but I ride every day of the week at the equestrian centre where she's kept, and where I also help out with yard duties and mucking out."
With the backing of her mother Sam (43), who works in a supermarket, and taxi driver father Arthur (53), Zoe believes she can go all the way to the top of the sport she loves.
Her parents - "who were never involved in horses themselves" - are divorced and she lives with her dad, who has been "really excited and pushing me to follow my dream".
"I won't be able to have my first race until I obtain my licence next month but I can't wait," she added.
"I've been told that I have a natural gift by people in the industry and I really want to earn a living doing this."
The youngest of five siblings, Zoe will return for a second work placement with acclaimed Irish trainer Richard Brabazon in June.
She said the Co Kildare man had promised to introduce her to professionals who will "give me my big break after I've obtained my apprentice flat racing licence next spring". At 5ft 3ins and weighing 45kg "when I'm properly fit", Zoe has the right credentials to follow in the footsteps of her "female inspiration" Carberry and other superstar jockeys such as Ruby Walsh and the recently retired Sir Tony 'AP' McCoy.
"I would love to meet AP, talk to him about his incredible career and pick up some tips," she said.
Zoe is also cracking the whip on her future ambitions already.
This is a girl who's ready to face any hurdles - metaphorical and real - which come her way.
"There aren't that many female jockeys who have made a name for themselves so that's what I'm determined to do," she added.