Here’s one more true story for you, my dearest readers – this time, about one of the almost innumerable incidents, within all possible genres you may care to fathom between deep drama and high comedy, in which more than twenty years of horse-breeding and yard management have been fertile… practically on a daily basis. In fact, throughout all these years, I’ve never failed to stop – well… at least whenever I’ve actually had time to stop – and wonder, in delight, at the amazing fact that, in this activity, in spite of its basically repetitive everyday aspects and routines, there is never a moment of monotony. For this, as all of us who have had the privilege to work with them have found, there’s no one else to thank… but the horses themselves - these fascinating, multi-faceted creatures whom, through their individual inimitable personalities, have been filling our lives with precious experiences… and moments which are as unrepeatable as they are unforgettable.
Such is the case of this particular episode I’m about to share with you – one, my dear friends, in which that vast scope of genres I mentioned earlier, in my brief introduction, is evident… as a rather comprehensive blend of all of them. Enjoy!
In tune with Diana’s last mighty push, Mr. Cruz, the old stud-groom, gently heaved the squirming, wet and dark foal onto the clean straw – and promptly lifted its hind-leg. “It’s a colt”, he announced, with a delighted toothless grin, to the audience waiting, on tenterhooks, outside the yard’s maternity stable.
Diana was a beautiful thoroughbred broodmare, whose very dark bay coat gleamed with a deep burgundy tinge in the light. A former steeplechase (1) race-horse, with many earnings on the highly competitive French tracks, she had been retired after an injury at the very young age of 3 years old, and, like most former filly steeplechasers with good pedigrees, had been allocated, without more ado, to the show-jumpers’ breeding market, where we found her, fell in love with her, and finally acquired her, in partnership with a cousin, Antonio.
All of us, Diana’s co-owners, were very excited when the vet confirmed that she was in foal by Prosper, a powerful French stallion with a most impressive curriculum in the international show-jumping circuit, and were, of course, utterly thrilled when, eleven moons later, a healthy foal was delivered with no complications – and old Mr. Cruz made its gender known, with no lesser elation than that of a royal herald proclaiming the birth of a crown prince! And, if there were no trumpets, drum-rolls, or canon blasts on that mild late February night, there most certainly were all sorts of expressions of the highest merriment, including several hefty slugs from a magnum of champagne, handed around in honour of the noble mother and her gorgeous baby. “Here’s looking at you, kid”, Cousin Antonio, now also the colt’s proud co-owner, quoted (2) - and then, we named him… Humphrey!
For about a year, first with his dam – and what a vigilant, caring mother Diana was – and then in the company of other recently weaned foals, Humphrey’s life progressed in that heavenly natural sequence, which consists of grazing, galloping, bucking, and playing without restraint, being fed the most delicious grain and hay, with the added vitamins and other nutritional supplements necessary for a balanced physical development, and then falling asleep like a log in a spotlessly clean stable, without a care in the world and in perfect health, day after day. Soon, however, time came for decisions concerning the less carefree future of that bunch of yearlings as show-jumpers.
Humphrey had grown very tall, lean, and somewhat gawky, with none of his father’s formidable muscular frame, but as highly-strung as his long and aristocratic maternal line of thoroughbred ancestors, although without the stamina and speed which are the racer’s trademark. With a sensible, conscientious management, however, and later, with correct schooling and training that would respect his slender constitution and would, in counterbalancing his excitable nature with gentleness, bring out his best qualities, among which an undeniable talent for jumping was already perceptible, Humphrey could become an excellent show-jumper. The other side of the coin, alas, was that, with all of his above mentioned characteristics, he would never make a good stallion. And so, as Humphrey’s owners, responsible for his correct management and above all, for his welfare, the possibility of having the colt gelded was brought to our consideration.
To geld or not to geld… well, the question should really be more centred on WHY to geld or… not to. In the words of renowned specialist in horse behaviour, Jessica Jahel (3), “if you own a… (colt) that is not part of a well-thought-out breeding program, you need to ask yourself (…) whether keeping it entire is really to the advantage of the horse.” And, in Humphrey’s case, we already knew that the answer to this, although he was still a young colt, was “no” - keeping him entire would most definitely not be to his advantage. And so, the other answer ensued naturally – “yes”, Humphrey was to be gelded.
Preparations were then made for the procedure, which, of course, I’ll refrain from describing in detail – but which, and allow me to add just this succinct bit of information, is usually performed with the horse standing up, under mild sedation and a very effective local anaesthetic. When no sudden complications arise, it is really a simple and quick procedure, entailing only minor discomfort for the young horses, whose natural and astonishingly speedy healing faculties, aided by some anti-inflammatory medicines and proper tending, bring about full recovery within a few days.
In fact, Humphrey’s surgery didn’t take more than a few minutes, and, fortunately, all went well, with no unexpected snags. It took place one evening at our yard, and while our head-groom assisted the vet, the junior-groom and I saw to the regular care of the other horses. When Cousin Antonio, who had had other duties to attend to that day, finally stopped by to check how everything had gone, the vet and the grooms were already clearing up, while I noted down the instructions regarding post-surgical care and medications.
I must clarify, at this point, that Cousin Antonio – who, like me, was in his mid-twenties when this episode occurred – and Mario, the vet – not much older than us – had been good friends since the days when the first was competing in the show-jumping circuit as a junior rider, and the latter, who was then still attending veterinary surgeons’ school, accompanied his grandfather – a man with no formal degree, but with a truly encyclopaedic knowledge of horses – to all sorts of horse-shows, and to the many yards where the venerable old gentleman’s presence and expertise were constantly requested.
It is also important to say that both guys were – and still are – some of the most incredibly funny, best-humoured people I’ve ever been fortunate to meet, and that, even when dealing with the most difficult situations at the most ungodly hours, amidst the most serious strain, serious worries, and serious exhaustion, they always managed to come up with some heartening remark, or with some amusing aside that lifted everybody’s spirits and often prompted a few good laughs – the best therapy there can possibly be!
So, that evening, the banter between the two of them had, as usual, that jolly, flippant tone we’d all come to look forward to. “Hey, you unspeakable butcher”, Antonio asked, his cheerful attitude and warm amiability belying the insult, “how’s my horse doing?” – “Well”, the vet retorted, totally unfazed, with a face-splitting grin, “he sure is doing much better than you’d be, in similar circumstances, you fart! Anyway”, he added, “why “dontcha” go an’ see for yourself?”
And so Antonio did, by walking to the stall where Humphrey, still under the effects of the sedative, was standing, with his head hanging drowsily down. “So here you are, you poor bugger”, he whispered fondly, putting his arms around the horse’s neck, his crotch dangerously level with his mouth. “What have they done to “ya”, huh?”
And, oh, boy… never an answer has been more incisive! Most probably startled, in his semi-daze, by that impromptu embrace, the horse swiftly moved his head, and… WHAM! – In a flash, he grabbed Cousin Antonio’s “south fork” in his teeth, and gave it the mightiest, most vicious tug you can possibly imagine!
Strangely, the next fleeting moments seemed to last an eternity – and we all looked rather like characters in some slow-motion movie feature. With a guttural, resounding yell – a very explicit “OOOOOHHHHHHHH, F**K!!!” – Antonio bounded backwards, his face deathly white, his hands clutching the same spot, between his legs, onto which five pairs of eyes – all, including his own, virtually knocked off their sockets in horror - instantly and hypnotically converged. Then, after what felt like a lifetime, Antonio’s hands began to release their grasp, uncovering, inch by agonizingly slow inch, what everybody’s still petrified gaze expected, most legitimately, to be a scenery of… irremediable devastation.
Yet, dear readers – and the collective gasp that followed, was one so huge, and indicative of a relief so absolute, that I can only compare it with something like… the return of a long wandering soul to its long lost body – all the damage exposed before us, was… a colossal hole, and pieces of tan corduroy flapping, in tatters, around a visibly unharmed “content”, safely enclosed in intact, immaculate white underpants!
With still unbelieving and trembling fingers tentatively exploring the depths of the cavity, but with some colour beginning to return to his face, Antonio glanced around, first at Humphrey – who had calmly resumed his snooze – then at us, and in a rather unsteady voice, muttered, “I tell “ya”, folks… I thought the son of a bitch had ripped my “jewels” off…”
… And, much like a plug pulled from a bathtub, this tirade released all the tension accumulated in those stables – and soon, we all abandoned ourselves to a truly raging flood of hysterics! I’ll never forget José Carlos – our then teenager junior-groom – slumped on a hay-bale, and boxing the air with his feet while howling with laughter, or Antonio, the head-groom, most unashamedly teasing his still shaken namesake, amidst wild fits of mirth – “Hey, Master Antonio, what kind of an explanation are “ya gonna” give your fiancée when she gets a hold of “yer down-unders”, tonight?”
But the supreme moment of hilarity came – nearly finishing us all off – when Mario, our excellent but incorrigibly irreverent vet, in a flash of the most refined dark-humour, rushed to the waste bucket, where all the debris of the surgery still waited to be dealt with… and came back, triumphantly brandishing the horse’s testicles – “Here, mate! I can’t do “nothin” for your fancy pants, but these here are beautiful, and still warm, in case “ya” need a replacement!”
“Oh, x.*& $%!# !!!... – Cousin Antonio, finally beginning to relax, snapped, in mock fury. And then, pensively considering the corduroy shreds, he let out a booming sigh, and added, with unquestionable determination: “What I swear to “ya” all, upon my honour, my heart, and, most of all, my precious balls” – and he couldn’t resist giving them a quick, reassuring squeeze – “is that never, ever, under any circumstances whatsoever, will I wear anything other than the baggiest freakin’ pants I’ll be able to find from now on!”
© 2007 Alexandra* ~ OneLight*®
Notice: In the photo, Humphrey, five years after the episode hereby related, with Antonio – who, for the occasion pictured (an important horse-show), exceptionally broke his oath, by wearing, as we can see, leather chaps with an opening… over very tight breeches! ;0)
(1) – A horserace over an obstacle course
(2) – Humphrey Bogart, in “Casablanca”
(3) – Jessica Jahel – author of the “Horse-Sense” Newsletter and several books on horse behaviour, and host of the “Holistic Horsemanship®” website