HORSES! God made them so beautiful!
Tall, with well-toned muscles, straight legs, adorned forelocks and trimmed shiny hair — those horses walked like they knew they were pretty.
I will never forget the horses at the Manila Polo Club (MPC).
Before I saw them, I was not unfamiliar with horses. I had been around with some of them, particularly with the more useful ones. Like the breed of horses that my cousins, who lived in the province, relied on to haul down the fruit crops from the hills. That was the same breed that towed a fleet of kalesa off Libertad market into the streets of my beloved Pasay City.
They were called ponies, but horses just the same (the delineation was simply based on the height of breeds).
The differences between those breeds of horses were obvious even to the eyes of a boy like me. I preferred the horses of the MPC. A boy couldn’t grasp yet the difference between pricey and invaluable.
I had a sense of the difference between rich and poor, but I didn’t know yet the actual measures of the distance that separate the two worlds. I thought then that I could someday own a horse like those horses at the MPC. The ensuing years tamed my yearnings; albeit I kept my love of horses.
Anyway at the MPC, when these horses were around and I was not chasing runaway tennis balls, I would usually watch these animals while being trained by their sota or caretakers.
My peers and me would gather and sit under the shade of a camachile tree nestled by the edge of a road that separated the tennis pavilion and the 6-acre equestrian practice field.
There was another vast space near the main clubhouse of the MPC where they played polo games.
The camachile tree was always bountiful during the summer and we would munch on its fruits while watching the horses ran around the field.
My father’s younger brother, Tito Juanito, was a farrier (one who shoes a horse) at the MPC. My uncle learned the trade from my grandfather who shoed local horses at a time when kalesas were almost the primary means of transportation. He was already the neighborhood panday (blacksmith) long before Fernando Poe Jr., turned the character into a blockbuster movie hero.
I guess this explains my innate affection for horses, and probably too, my thoughtless adulation of FPJ.
At the MPC, having an uncle who was farrier gave me the rare privilege of getting very near those majestic horses. I was able to feed them and touch them — caress their smooth and shiny body. There were even times when the workers at the stables allowed me to mount some of the horses and ride them for a couple of yards.
My uncle and his peers knew, aside from knowing how I loved horses, why I regularly ran to the stables during the middle of days.
Well, Pinoys know that any work under the tropical summer sun is a punishment. The sun stops being pleasant by 10 a.m. And then it would be so hot it could easily melt a bar of butter in over five minutes. And that fuming sun would not calm down until late in the afternoon.
But the non-Filipino MPC members were never scared of the sun. We didn’t understand those “white people” who apparently could find pleasure in playing under that kind of heat. And to the detriment of the athletic supervisors who had to seek out the boys who mostly had gone hiding around time to avoid providing service to those maniacs.
“Kung kailan kayo kailangan ‘di kayo makita. Pero kanina nag-aagawan kayo,” an athletic supervisor once yelled at me when he caught me hiding in the locker room.
Well, come on? There was a reason why siesta is very much part of the Filipino culture.
But truth to be told, I was really lazy and didn’t care about making as much money that I possibly could. We were paid P6 an hour for a “solo” work.
For those who have not seen ball boys at work other than when watching tennis on TV (wherein every corner of the court is covered by each of the six caddies), here’s how it looks:
One pulot boy running the court from end to end, chasing runaway balls and throwing those balls back to the players from any point he was when the balls are needed. And while he was at it, the pulot boy simultaneously call the shots as in or out, yelling out the scores and changing the scoreboard as the game progresses.
Doing exactly that, hardworking boys earned as much as P25 to P35 a day (that would be around eight hours of walking and running the tennis court). But I was always happy earning just about half of that. For most of the day, I would be anywhere in the club premises but the tennis pavilion.
I loved watching my uncle work on the horses. I was awed by his skills. He was like a horse whisperer. The baddest horse would become sober when around with him. And as expected from a farrier, uncle was also a skilled blacksmith.
My uncle would go under a horse and would secure the animal’s leg between his thighs. And then he would start shaving the base of the hoof and cut its fringes. And then he would go back to his open furnace and would grab the red-hot horseshoe iron with a blacksmith’s tong. And then he would lay the horseshoe into the anvil and he would hammer it into shape.
The water would burst as the red-hot horseshoe was dipped into the bucket. And if the horseshoe fitted the hoof, my uncle would nail the shoe into the hoof. And he would finish the job by smoothening all the surfaces of the hoof with a metal sander.
I saw that it was not an easy job. And my uncle emphasized that the horse’s hind legs were the most dangerous parts to work on. And of course, my uncle also warned, that the size of the horse elevates the level of work hazard.
Uncle Nito never had a son and I felt that he was trying to pass on the skills to me. It was already a vanishing trade even at that time (and for obvious reason). But my uncle was lucky for landing a job in a rich club as the MPC. He was getting a good sum of salary and benefits that were normally reserved for employees who work for big firms. I’m sure he had a sense that my parents could not afford to send me to college. He might have noticed too that I love horses. My uncle might have thought that I’d be OK if also become a farrier when I come of age and could be legally hired by the MPC. I’d say that was quite a practical path to a future. To a poor man, a good skill or a steady job equals a steady future. Simple.
But I didn’t want to be a farrier. And I thought I was able to relay to him how I felt about it. I was 10 and I thought then that I would form a band and we would sing our way to fame and wealth — just like those fav four boys from Liverpool, England. And then, I would have my own stables for my horses.
It needed to earn a few notches of maturity before I realized that my uncle was trying to pass on a legacy from a fading generation to a budding one. I didn’t know it meant that much to him. I didn’t know I broke his heart.
My uncle died relatively young compared to his contemporaries. He died without seeing me making any progress in my life, which probably broke his heart even more.
But God bless his soul, if there was heaven up there, he would have known that I turned up Ok.
And I must tell you, dear uncle: The anvil, the hammer, the horses and the summers are etched forever in the playground of my memories.
*The opinion of this author is his/hers alone. It is not necessarily the views of Beyond Deadlines.