Thursday, February 22, 2024

Shylock, the fearless horse trainer

Back in the day it was compulsory for us to go to the cattle post during school holidays. There were no visits to cool places like Jo’burg or Durban, not for yours truly. As others built sand castles by the beach and paraded in bikinis at carnivals and beach parties some of us set snares for guinea fowls and sand grouses and went horse riding in the bush.

I remember at the cattle post there was this one brave herdsman called Otlaadisa “Shylock” Chabaetsile. This guy was very skilled at training horses. He was no slouch on the saddle and he was a fearless fellow who was well respected especially because he was also the managing foreman of Gabeetshaa farm. So during the holidays I found myself at the cattle post with the fearless Shylock for a month. That was a beautiful time in my life because I got the opportunity to learn horse riding from the master himself. You see, Brumbies are very wild horses and Shylock’s job was to tame them. That day I watched in fascination as Shylock and one particularly wild horse faced off inside a kraal. There was no room for escape; the two had to battle it out inside the four walls created by the gum poles.

Shylock regarded the horse with slit eyes and immediately knew that he stood face to face with a monster. He could tell by the wild look in the horses’ eye, its flaring nostrils and the fresh spur marks on his sides, that a few brave men had come to grief trying to tame this wild horse. Just recently a trainee herd boy was condemned to the lonely hospital wards after trying to square off with this horse. It threw him off and he landed in hospital after injuring his neck. And now the beast was face to face with the master himself. It was an epic battle. I watched, fascinated as Shylock moved stealthily towards the horse, whispering and trying to calm him down.

The horse snorted and his muscles rippled with tension at the touch of Shylock’s hand. Two other herd boys quickly joined in to blind fold and saddle the horse. Suddenly Shylock jumped onto the back of the horse. A roar went up from the make shift grandstand by the drinking trough, as on-looking herd boys started cheering and whistling out loud. Shylock clung on as he came crashing back on the saddle. He maintained his balance by shifting his knees. But the horse was only getting started. The horse’s front hooves leapt high as he tried to throw off the trainer.

He shook his head, dug in his heels, and frothed at the mouth as he twisted and turned, taking off at breakneck speed and suddenly coming to a skidding halt. Shylock clung on for dear life and countered by leaning back and squeezing his knees hard into the horse’s sides. The horse then resorted to foul tactics. It ran sideways into the gum poles, which knocked the wind out of Shylock, but he still hung on. He knew that if he rode the eye of the storm, the horse would soon tire and surrender. The two squared up for fifteen more minutes until the horse gave a huge snort and conceded defeat. As the dust cleared, the earth between them had been ploughed and churned by the stampeding hooves- fitting testament to the epic struggle that had taken place. They named the horse Volvo because of its rippling muscles. Today Volvo is a lovely horse and a great hunter. He is Shylock’s favorite and the trainer rides him to neighboring farms on his drinking sprees. Man and horse have a grudging respect for each other.


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