SMOKE: Fools And Horses

Originally published: 26 August 2004

I'm not what you'd call a horsey type. Not the sort who spends thousands of Daddy's rands on jodhpurs and riding crops and extra large pooper-scoopers.

Not the sort who uses terms like "dressage" and "equine" while taking elevenses with wealthy Constantia friends at ridiculously priced, trendy coffee shops.

Not me.

I don't mix in horsey circles, but the few horse folk I have met have always struck me as pompous, pretentious and faintly disapproving of anyone not belonging to their club. As far as I'm concerned - they can keep it.

I don't have pleasant memories of horses - I've only ever been on one. That one bastard horse forever destroyed any affinity I might otherwise have had towards other horses and spawned a loathing of anything to do with horses that has persisted to the present day.

I was 10 years old, there was a girl. Of course.

I used to play violin for a youth orchestra in Pretoria - it was all very Afrikaans and I didn't fit in at all. Even though the other kids weren't unpleasant I was definitely the odd man out.

I sat in the third row of the second violins and there was a sexy little honey who sat in the second row of the first violins. I would spend far more time watching her blonde ponytail swing gently to and fro than watching the conductor, which would explain why I was so far down the pecking order.

Then came the orchestra camp at a game farm outside Pretoria. The whole orchestra was bundled off for a weekend and although a lot of our time was spent practicing for some concert, we had various activities planned.

There were three things that happened at that camp that have stuck with me ever since: the first was watching an antelope of some kind (I think it was a springbok) get sliced open from pelvis to throat, and the farting sound it made as the gas inside the carcass found release.

They hauled the intestines out and we had great fun running around with bits of tendon and intestine, making the girls scream. One boy found a wet lung with a tube sticking out of it and ran about inflating the lung with the still-bloody tube in his mouth.

Okes, huh? Sheesh.

The second event happened at night when a kid fell into the long drop, which was pitch dark. Nothing like a good long drop disaster to spice up a band camp.

And the third event was the horse ride.

We were all very excited by this, as most of the kids were either active horse riders and showjumpers or were at least comfortable on horses. I had never been on one in my life.

The girl I fancied had won numerous medals in showjumping and talked nineteen-to-the-dozen about her achievements as I sat spellbound.

Then the wrong thing happened - she asked me if I was a showjumper too. She had spent so much time setting up the fact that she absolutely adored horses that I simply couldn't tell the truth, and I let rip with a few of my own showjumping highlights.

And it worked. I saw the adulation in her eyes as she hung onto every word. Emboldened by the inroads I was making into our relationship I started elaborating, going into details of my provincial and national colours, my occasional trips to Hong Kong to race there and just about any other horse trivia I could think of.

By the time I was done the other kids were wishing they had never said anything - here was clearly a man way out of their league.

I enjoyed the attention so much I didn't stop to consider that I would have to actually get on a steed and prove myself, but I rationalised that it couldn't be all that hard.

We were taken out by bakkie to a dirt track that ran around the game farm and waiting for us were two of the biggest horses I had ever - and to this day yet - seen. I heard a farm hand saying they were 18 hands high and both were stallions - one pitch black and the other pure white.

Snorting impatiently, and stomping their feet.

Now remember - I was only 10 years old and as such wasn't far past my dad's belt buckle. Those horses were three times my height at least and I saw them looking at me in scorn. They had me pegged from the outset.

How it worked was thus: two kids would get onto the horses while the rest stayed in the bakkie. The bakkie would then drive off while the horses galloped behind. There were a couple of farm hands riding along as well, to make sure the horses didn't stray from the path.

I sat in the bakkie with a pantsload of shite and prickling armpits, as kid after kid gracefully rode along behind. My goddess looked beautiful as her golden hair flew out behind her and it was plain to see she was more at home on a horse than not.

Then it was my turn. My nymph led the chant ("Luke, Luke, Luke!"), and the crowd of expectant kids clapped and cheered as I put my shoe into the stirrup to hoist myself up. They were almost mad with eager excitement, craning to catch a glimpse of the horse boy wonder.

The first thing that happened was that I couldn't pull myself up - the stirrup was too high and I couldn't get any leverage. So I had to suffer the ignominy of hopping up and down, trying to get a decent purchase, until one of the farm hands put a palm under my butt and hoisted me up in one motion.

I made a whole fuss of looking down at the stirrup and shaking my head in amazement at the inefficiency of it all, which appeased the madding crowd somewhat. This guy was clearly such a professional no ordinary stirrup would do - only the finest porcelain ones imported from darkest Peru. My legend was almost complete.

Then the bakkie started up, and we were off.

I almost fell off as soon as the horse just started walking, but I wedged my feet firmly into the stirrups and started feeling more confident. The bakkie started going faster, the black bastard I was on started cantering and it all fell apart in a hurry.

I hadn't banked on the up and down motion of the horse. When the horse went down I went up for some reason, and when the horse's back came up and my butt went down the two met with alarming force.

The effect was excruciating. Within seconds I was in agony as my spine got compacted, my organs were flattened and the bones on the bottom of my pelvis took a hammering against the hard leather of the rising saddle. The pain was so bad I began screaming. Blue bloody murder. Banshees the world over quit the profession in disgust at their own inefficiencies.

To compound matters both feet came out of their stirrups, so the audience on the bakkie were treated to the sights and sounds of a rake-thin kid with a pudding-bowl fringe being hoisted three feet into the air - legs splayed out wildly, grimly hanging on to small fists of mane - before coming back down with an audible crash, followed by wild screams of pain.

I had no idea how to stop the horse, so I began pulling the hair out of its mane and beating it with both fists around the head and neck.

The horse didn't miss a beat, but he did turn a baleful eye at me with an expression that asked what the hell I thought I was doing, and no matter how hard I smacked the swine he just wouldn't stop.

During all this I managed a glance at my fantasy dream girl and she - along with every other kid on the bakkie - was losing the battle to mop up the tears of laughter that flowed like rivers from her eyes. She was finished, dog. This was the best shit ever.

The farm hands eventually managed to control their own laughter and stopped the horses. Totally crushed, crestfallen, bruised and ashamed I had to climb up onto the bakkie with the others for the rest of the ride.

I stared stoically out into the distance and avoided everyone. When we were getting off the bakkie I caught the eye of my beloved and she made no attempt to hide her scorn.

I spent the rest of the camp in hiding, alone.

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
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