The TenderfootThursday, August 05, 2010
|Photograph - Rebecca Stewart
1. Play football
2. Dance the tango
3. Have an easy way with women
4. Ride a horse
I can ascertain that I never played football well (in fact the only sport I have ever excelled at has been ping-pong before it acquired the lofty name of table tennis) and that I only learned to dance the tango late in my life. I would define myself as an efficient Argentine tango dancer. I believe Rosemary married me in Mexico because she felt sorry for the bungler I was.
An alert reader might suspect that I would now confess my absolute master of the equines but he or she would be disappointed. I was never a great horseman even though I had many chances.
My association with horses began when I was 7. At the time all boys in Buenos Aires wanted a Mobo. A mobo was a sort of mechanical horse (extremely primitive) that when a child sat on it and leaned in one direction and another the horse would magically move ever so slightly forward.
When I was around 9 I went to the Santa Teresa estancia in the province of Corrientes. My cousin Wency, whose aunt owned the estancia, rode well. The Argentine saddle consists of three or four layers of sheepskin cinched up with stirrups. I was given an extremely large horse. Wency always bagged the good one. Mine was a matungo, which is Argentine Spanish for nag. We went into the semi tropical bush. It didn’t take long before I suffered my first fall. The horse was stung by a huge bee (a special kind that makes excellent wild honey) and it bolted through the bush until I was thrown off.
My parents sent me to various summer ranches during my school vacations for about three years in a row. I learned to ride with confidence and I delighted in riding into the pampa to chase South American ostriches. It was thrilling to gallop after them.
By 1955 I had mastered polo. This was polo on my black Raleigh bike. I played bicycle polo (with croquet mallets) on Sierra Madre Street in Mexico City. I was almost as good at it as I was in ping-pong.
By 1956 my mother had moved to a new teaching job in Nueva Rosita Coahuila. We all had horses. I was given the last horse available which happened to be a horse that had never been weaned from its mother. It would do nothing when I would leave the stable as I accompanied my friends for ride in the Coahuila dessert (much drier and barer than the South Easern brush of Michael East’s ranch). I had to kick it repeatedly to make it trot, gallop it would not. But as soon as we pointed the horses back home I was always the first to get there. My horse just wanted to get home to mama. I gave up on the horse and I accompanied my friends on my black Raleigh. I had squeezed a special liquid into the tubes of the tires that self-sealed automatically as I ran over the occasional thorn.
It was not until I was 21 and back in Buenos Aires when I rode again. I was in the Argentine Navy as a conscript. I fell for a blonde Uruguayan (now how many out there can claim to have had an Uruguayan girlfriend?) called Corina Poore. She was most forward and invited me to accompany her for a long weekend at her brother-in-law’s camp. Corina was Anglo/Uruguayan and they all simply translate campo (field) to camp in English. I was not a master of my weekends and much less the long ones. The man in control was a nasty Argentine Marine Corps corporal called Moraña. I had to aks him for permission.
I decided to use a lewd approach so I told Cabo Moraña that I had the possibility of very hot weekend with a dame if he gave me permission. His reply was, “I will give you the three-day pass if you promise to give me all the details when you come back.” I saluted him and said, “Le prometo, Cabo.”
And I was off in a plane. Poore’s brother-in-law had a small private plane. We landed in a dirt strip in the Province of Entre Ríos. We were met by a dusty but huge plack Packard and taken to an estancia house that was on a slight hill. The house was surrounded by a wrought iron fence and guarded by a large gray Great Dane. Before I unpacked Corina asked me, “Shall we ride before supper?”
For this occasion I had gone to the venerable Lopez Taibo Shoe store on Calle Corrientes. I had spotted a pair of beautiful brown short-caned boots on the window. I was wearing my navy conscript whites. A stuffy but spiffily dressed man lowered his nose just enough so that he could see me and said, “Sir are you in the right store?” I pulled an American one- hundred-dollar bill from my pocket and waving it at his face I said, “I am, size 8½, and I want those boots.”
Corina and I romantically rode on the pampa (Argentine style saddles). My horse was a nasty piece of work. It had bloated its stomach when I had cinched it up. I did not know the gaucho trick of smacking the horse in a certain place to make it deflate. As we were galloping, my cinch loosened up. The horse knew it. It suddenly stopped and I went flying over its neck and in front of the horse. It then began to step on me and kick me. It stepped on my new boots. The man at Lopez Taibo had not told me it had steel toes. That saved me from crushed feet. In my panic to protect myself I remembered some Randolph Scott Western so I covered my face and rolled away. Corin managed to get the horse off me but not until I had received a nasty kick near one of my eyes. I had a nasty shiner.
Back at the estancia Corina put me into a hammock and brought ice. She gently pressed on my eye and then got into the hammock. For me it was the most painful but most romantic weekend of my life. But how was I going to explain all this to Cabo Moraña? That story cannot be put here as I would not want to go into the details. Suffice to say that Cabo Moraña kept asking me for months after if I was going to have another date with Corina.
In another blog I will write about Rebecca’s attempt to ride Michael East’s cutting horse, Gramercy Flow. I had to save the family name so when Michael East suggested I ride Gramercy Flow I could not refuse. I had a bit of a problem getting on the horse as I have lost a lot of my flexibility and Michael East had not lowered the stirrups which had been adjusted for Rebecca. So I had to suffer the indignity of having to step on a small metal stool to get on the horse. But I was not bad after that as I was able to trot and gallop when I wanted.
Michael East, characteristically, said nothing.