You may have heard of shark attacks. You may have heard of dog attacks. But, have you ever heard of horse attacks?
I have. In fact, I have done more than just heard of them; I have been a victim of such an attack.
It was a hot day in the city of Lahore, Pakistan. It was the middle of June with a staggering temperature of 90 degrees, the norm in Lahore at this time of the year. I stepped out of my air-conditioned car to the parking area outside the riding enclosure. Did I mention that I am a competitive horseback rider? Probably not. But now you know.
Back to me stepping out of the car. I stepped out of the cold interior of my car to experience a blast of heat. And not the good kind either. The heat in dry places like Dubai makes you want to soak it in and have a nice, long tan. The heat in Lahore is humid. It makes you sweat profusely. And that gets kind of uncomfortable, especially when your clothes start drenching with your sweat and stick to your body.
To any non-horse related person, the air would have smelled of flies and defecation. A person who has been with horses for a long time shuts out the rancid smells and begins to appreciate the pleasant ones. I smelled the fresh air that can only be associated with Nature; untamed grass, rolling hills and unexplored terrain.
I stuck out my tongue, which I tend to when the weather is really hot. The air tasted of that fresh pine tree scent you get in forests. The reason for that may be that the entire area is surrounded by a park and more importantly, by pine trees.
Putting a hand to my forehead to shield my eyes from the really bright sunlight, I glanced around me. To my left, I could see horses picketed to the metal railings that were supposedly new but had paint peeling off them almost everywhere. Straight ahead was the empty riding area where simple equestrianism took place; everything from the teaching of riding to implementing that teaching. The ground was covered mud so as to cushion the falls of riders and to make impacts with the ground hurt less than they otherwise would have. To my right were the grassy polo fields. Some riders were already on those, practicing ‘stick and ball’ as it is so aptly called.
I could hear horses nickering from every direction: from behind me, where the track for giving horses exercise was, from my left where a couple of horses were picketed, from in front of me where behind the riding area where the stables were and from my right where they were they were made to go through a series of complex maneuvers that are usually involved in polo. I could also hear the wooden polo sticks colliding with the hard, hollow material the polo balls are made of. In addition, I heard the soft purring of the engine of my car slowly die as my driver cut the engine. On top of it all, I heard my two younger brothers bickering about something.
Aggravated by something my 15-year-old brother may have said, my 8-year-old brother announced, “Your brain is small.”
“Well, technically the human brain or cerebral cortex as it is called is the same size in all human beings across the globe. Therefore, we can safely assume that my brain is not small. What you may mean, my dearest brother is that I have a limited view and comprehension of the world and my comprehension abilities are somewhat lacking…” he began – yes began - in his didactic tone. I kid you not; my brother actually does talk like that.
“Assalamualaikum Hashim Uncle,” I greeted my trainer.
‘Hashim Uncle’ is a middle aged but still quite fit person with red - bordering on the edge of orange – hair. Both his beard and the tuft of hair on his head have that colour. His preferred articles of clothing are a pair of worn-out jeans, white shirt and a polo jacket and those were what he was wearing that day.
He replied in his gravelly voice, “Waalaikumassalaam sahib.”
My greeting had the desired effect: my brothers stopped arguing and followed me to the place where our boots were.
I hurried towards the seating area to wear my riding boots. The sound of gravel crunching beneath my rubber slippers was actually quite comforting. The wooden benches felt quite cool despite the weather. I sat on and started strapping on my riding boots. The chocolate brown boots ended slightly below my knees.
Then, I picked up my helmet, twirled it a bit just for the sake of it and made for the horses.
Smiling, I said, “Assalaamualaikum Bashir Lala.”
I don’t know why we call him Bashir Lala. I don’t even know what Lala means. I think it is used to signal respect for someone in the same manner that one may say ‘sir’ or ‘mam’. But ever since, I honestly don’t know when, my brothers and I have been told to add Lala to the end of his name. So that’s that.
Bashir ‘Lala’ is a rotund, jovial fellow who has a really contagious laugh and a natural smile that seems almost made for his face.
He returned my greeting and brought around Haroon a brown bay with a fiery temper. As I mounted him, he snorted furiously and tossed his head.
I slightly urged him forward with my feet and opened the gate to the riding area by slightly bending down, pulling the latch and pushing the gate with my hands.
From the start, I could tell that Haroon was in a bad mood. And from the start, I was happy. Because, believe it or not, I love when a horse goes all crazy on me. I love the danger, the thrill of trying to control a horse when it is not in the mood to be ridden.
Haroon reared on his front two legs, he kicked his back two legs into the air. He snorted. He tossed his head around. He refused to turn. He turned when it pleased him. And I was at peace. Now this may seem a little egotistic but one of the reasons I enjoy riding a horse with a temper is that I get to show off whatever skills I may have as a horseman to whoever may be watching.
And that is what I did. As people gathered around to watch, I turned Haroon this way, then that. I dug my feet into his ribs and rode him at full gallop. I hung on when reared. I sat firmly when he kicked back or bucked. The underlying sentence; I loved every moment of it.
By the end of that session, both of us were drenched in sweat. My hair was slick with sweat, my chest heaving. I was panting. Haroon was huffing and breathing loudly.
Most of all, it felt good.
I took Haroon to back to the gate, patted his side and dismounted. I took him to the fence and tied him up.
As I was leaving, I felt a sharp pain in my back, felt a huge load on it as if someone was pulling me skin back and heard Bashir Lala cry out. The edges of vision dimmed momentarily as if I was about to black out. I was dazed, disoriented and felt as if the ground was spinning up to meet me.
Thankfully, I didn’t fall and my vision returned to normal. Lala Bashir ran up to me and the pressure on my back was lifted.
As I turned around, I also backed up because I had realized what had happened. Haroon had bit me. And yes, this actually did happen, as strange as it may sound.
Most people have heard of dogs biting people, most have heard of sharks taking chunks out of people, but until today, you probably hadn’t thought about horses in the same manner. Now you do.