Jun 04





Wait! … Wait!…” he said.


You’re moving from the horses to cricket, are you?” he asked.


I said: “I have to! It was whilst writing about cricket that I brought in the horses – as an aside that was to act as some  sort of sop to my stream of consciousness. So having finished with the horses, I have to go back to the cricket.”

Oh no, you don’t!” he said with a laugh. “ Haha!” he continued,  “ you’re in trouble then. For you’ve omitted two of the greatest horse stories. One involved me, and the other involved you!”


What? A horse story involving me? Definitely unflattering, it has to be, I thought.


Ruthless offspring. Almost every horse story in which I was involved meant humiliation for me: humiliation that my own kids could ride better than me; humiliation that I couldn’t do much to save them if they were ever to get into  trouble on horse-back,  because you and your horse are  always “alone together” and by the time anyone else realises that something is wrong, the mishap would have happened already.


And sonny boy wanted to bring up my ineptitude where horses were concerned?


I winced, gritted my teeth and said, “Ok, tell me the one in which I was involved first.” 

You know — I was acting the brave man and all that – get the worst over with quickly, right?


Ha” You don’t know what unfairness means until your offspring decide to rib you. The guy laughed a half-suupressed little laugh and said, “No, let me tell you my story first. Because earlier in the series, you did mention one of the horses I used to ride – Lucifer!”


I sighed. Lucifer, to me, meant  bad news.  What was it about him that I had not knpown and had therefore omitted?


The guy said, “You remember the gymkhana that you mentioned when you were relating the Lucifer story? When I rode Lucifer in the gymkhana?”


Yes, yes!” I said wearily.


Well, we didn’t tell you everything. Not about the gymkhana!”


My heart jumped! “WHAT? You didn’t tell me everything? What did you hide from me? I didn’t see anything but minor bruises on you?”


No!”he said. “But there was another side to the story.”


“What other side?” My heart sank lower. It was now skipping three beats or more each second.


He said, “I was too shy!”


Blessed Skies above!” I muttered. “You were too shy? You?”


At about age nine or ten, (the actual age doesn’t matter as to me, he never was a grownup  boy until it was too late!) the man had once shouted, from the lawn: “Daddy!” Daddy! Onukpa is f****ing Sasha!”


The quote is in relation to two of our dogs. Onukpa was an ugly little Ghanaian dog, whereas Sasha was an Alsatian. We had always feared that they could mate and give us a litter of  mongrels,  whereas we had plans to take Sasha to an Alsatian male to be mated. But  because Onukpa was much younger than Sasha, we assumed that the feared attempt at coupling wouldn’t happen for some time yet.   We just discussed the possibility  and forgot all about it.


Now, Onukpa was all right — I mean he was “a nice dog”, in the sense that he didn’t give too much trouble. And he liked to bark – which was good for us, because we had only become interested in dogs after we had suffered a horrendous burglary that had reduced my wife to tears. We couldn’t give such a useful dog away just because he was small and  “ordinary”, and we had brought  a potential tease of a bride for him in the form of the beautiful Alsatian,   Sash. Or must we? We dawdled. And nature decided to take matters over.


The truth be told, I didn’t even realise that my boys knew the word I have put in asterisks. In our house, the term we would have used to depict the possibility of an Onukpa-Sasha union would have been “mate with”. But   what happened when  the kids were out playing with their friends and life caught up with them?  Out there, amidst the footballs, bicycles, slides and  swings,  where would a parent  be to assume the role of  ‘language police’  and say, “Don’t say “f*****ing! Say “mating?” 


One of my friends toild me she had heard the son of another friend boasting that they had  “banged” a girl acquaintance.


“What do you mean “banged her?” they had asked the  boy.


“I mean we screwed her!” the boy said, without the slightest self-consciousness.  Mother mine! Boys like this were the boys my son played with, and I was shocked at his language?


Yet, here was this guy with playmates who used such language  telling me he was “too shy” to relate to me, something that had happened when he was riding Lucifer?  What could that possibly be?


I shuddered. And waited.


But as if the guy deliberately  wanted to savour the moment because he knew it woulkd take my mind  irresistibly  back to the terrible anxieties I used to entertain about him when he was a child and I allowed him — against my better judgemnent —  to engage  in  potentially dangerous pastimes, “in order to build him up and make a man of him”, he now  stretched out the  story. Meanwhile, my heart continued to thump.


Do you remember a horse called  “Saladin”? he finally asked. Oh my God – I thought we were talking about Lucifer? Saladin eh? What about Saladin? Yje past was cathcing up with me in a most inconsiderate fashion.


Yes, the name rings a bell – but nothing in particular comes to mind when I hear the name.”


Hmmm!”, he said. “That was the horse I was supposed to ride in the gymkhana that day. But he was a strange horse. One of his eyes was different in colour from the other one!”


I laughed.


He laughed.


“So what?” I asked. I pointed ou — with a little bit of froistuy steel in my voice —   that I had almost always been too busy trying to stay on my horse — and keeping him calm when we weren’t moving, as other horses threatened to pick a fight with him — to look at the colour of the eyes of the  horses other people rode.


He said, “I didn’t know it then but I learnt later that when a horse has such “stereoscopic” eyes …”


I said, “Ah?  Stereoscopic eyes? Where did you hear that from?”


Well, it isn’t difficult to  comprehend that word, is it? Stereo sound means  sound from more than one channel. So, stereoscopic – giving more than one ‘vision’ at a time! A horse with one pink eye and one black eye has certainly got to deliver stereoscopic eyesight. He’s just oine step removed from having “strobe eyes” Hahahahahaha” Helaughed.


I laughed. A horse with strobe eyes. Which nightclub would employ him to light up its dance floor?


My son continued: “Well, such a pair of eyes in a horse  can make him  dangerous to anyone who rode him.  Right? He might pick up different signals from the terrain over which you rode!”


“Are you talking from experience by any chance?” I teased.


He laughed. “No, Saladin didn’t do anything untoward to me when I rode him,” he said. “But the thing about him was that he could be moody. There were times when he was so unstable that not even his stable-lads could get near him. No pun intended!”


I forced myself to laugh with him.


“So what took place between you and Saladin?” I asked.


Well, the thing about horses is that they are not difficult to read at all. So, if you went to get Saladin and you saw him standing with his back towards the stable door, the message was “Bugger off! Don’t dare come in and disturb me,  when I’ve got something to feed on.” If you ignored the message and went in, he would kick out in a manner that you never expected a horse to do towards you, his alleged master.”


“But suppose you needed him urgently?”


“Urgently? The word was not in the vocabulary of Saladin. You’d have to wait, that’s all. Wait until his mood changed.  Which meant when he’d eaten enough.  He would then change positions and turn to face the stable door. And he would allow you to pat him on the head and take a cube of sugar or a nut from your palm without biting you, and that sort of thing. And you would be able to lead him out and ride him. And he would be no trouble at all.”




Well, I was booked to ride Saladin at the gymkhana. I had done rehearsals with him all week and all that.  But when I went to take him  out, on the day itself,  his back was towards  the door.  As the gymkhana was due to start on time, I went to look for his handler to beg him to see whether he couldn’t get him to come out. The lad was reluctant at first but he empathised with me as he noticed how eager I was  to take part in the gymkhana with all my friends, who were already on their mounts, waiting. So decided to give it a try.


“He  went to the stabe door quietly, muttering “kha—kha–kha” in his throat in the way horses are supposed to be mollified by. And he kept mentioning the horse’s name in a soft, affectionate manner: “Saaa-laaadin! … Saa-laaaadin!” But as soon as he touched the latch of the stable door and it made a noise, Saladin kicked out PAH!!!  Pah!! He kicked so hard I thought the stable door would break! We both fled from the spot!

“It was then that the guy suggested that I take Lucifer, who was  a few doors away,  and was riderless. I mean, no-one was going to ride an unpredictable horse like Lucifer in a gymkhana was he? Especially, unrehearsed?

“But the situation was so dire that  I decided to take my chances with Lucifer. I took him  out. No problem. In the gymkhana, they put obstacles in your path which  you have to ride the horse round without touching. Or you are asked to  ride to  flags planted on poles on  the ground, pick them up and come back to the starting point. You’d be timed and the rider who did it fastest was the winner. And so on. Horse games, generally.

“I went with Lucifer and he did quite well. Then all of a sudden, he bolted almost full gallop  towards the fence of the paddock. I tried hard to stop him by pulling the reins back as hard as possible. But to no avail! One of the dangerous things about Lucifer was that he had what horsemen call a “hard mouth. He doesn’t get hurt in the mouth no matter how hard you pull him to try and make him stop, and iof he doesn’t want to stop, you’ere in trouble. So we rode full gallop towards the paddock fencing! Why waxs Lucifer doing this szuddenly when he’d been behaving homself quite well so far?”

(To be continued).


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