Being Basjan Part 2

In my own language, we have a saying: Marriage isn’t as easy as buying a horse.

Personally, I think who ever had said that lied.

Having bought Basjan, I was immediately confronted with a series of problems. I had no way of getting him to my friend’s farm and precious little money to do it with. We drove home that afternoon after I had decided to buy him in a quiet daze, the gravity of my decision settling around my friend and I like a pall. We drove to their farm immediately and spend the rest of the afternoon trying to get a stable ready for him, making a list of things that we needed and judging (or trying to judge) what the other horses would do to this new comer. I went home and spend the next two days trying to find someone with a horsebox and a pick up truck that could help us transport him. The only one that we could find was a person who Sumi had used a few weeks earlier to bring her stallion home from where he had stood at her cousin’s. She strongly advised me against it, saying that the horsebox was falling apart and it was alright for a horse that we knew but, not knowing how Basjan would react to transport, we couldn’t risk it. The last option that we had (thought sadly the most expensive) was to dial up a woman to whom Sumi had sold a horse to once. She was very keen and even said that she’d drive for us, which was a relief.

We went to collect him four days later and through the ordeal of boxing him, I was once again struck by the sense that I was dealing with a very sensitive horse. He had not wanted to be boxed, sensing I suspect, from his previous owner and her sister-in-law, (who had come for the departure) that he wasn’t going to come back. We struggled to get him near the box for the better part of an hour before, in a moment of insight, we send his previous owner away to get the other horse that was still on the yard. She thought that we were going to try and load the horse in front of Basjan and then get him to come in after him but in truth, we were just trying to get rid of her. When she disappeared down the dirt road, I remember looking at Sumi and the slip of a woman who had come to help us and telling them; “We’ve got ten minutes.”
We organized ourselves around Basjan, trying various positions of pulling and pushing before finally putting Sumi in front, and myself and the woman at the back. I didn’t think that our driver had enough strength in her as we linked arms behind Basjan, but she surprised me with a surprising show of strength as we all but picked the half ton horse up and pushed him into the horsebox. It was over before the other woman could even come back to us.

Any move is traumatic, any change of scenery not as refreshing as people would like you to believe and I think, being an animal that doesn’t necessarily understand why he was being taken out of his comfort zone, it was particularly hard on Basjan. Sumi’s family farm is big, with a lot of space and tons of grazing as well as three other horses, Rico – the Golden Stallion, JC – the Thoroughbred mare and Wimpie, her two year old son. This all sounded ideal, but the truth was that Basjan was coming from a situation where he was kept in a small camp all day, adjacent to one other horse, to a situation that could be described as horse high school with all its brutal politics and social hierarchies. It was with a very heavy heart that I turned him loose on the farm, knowing that for the next few days he would be bullied, abused and maybe even shunned by Sumi’s makeshift herd. His mistrust of my friend and I didn’t make it easier and for a week neither of us could really touch him, much less coach him into his stall so that we could tend to the scrapes and cuts that his new herd had given him. I was getting particularly frustrated, mentally congratulating myself on buying a horse I would never be able to ride. Something had to give and I knew in my heart that it had to come from me, as he had given up so much.

So, one day, as I once again found myself walking after a snorting and nervous Basjan, I finally gave up and sat down in the middle of field. It was a warm day, and I was very aware that I had not put on enough sunblock but I didn’t care. Basjan was ahead of me and had turned around to see what I was going to do, confused by my change of tactics. I took a carrot from the bag that I was trying to tempt him with, crunched on it loudly, and threw the rest out beside me before lying down in the dirt, staring up at the clear African sky and wondering if I would ever love it as much as the blue Scottish heaven that I had walked under for two years. Minutes passed as I lay there, boiling and burning, but I didn’t move and neither – to my silent pleasure, did Basjan. He stared at me and the carrots, the temptation clearly driving him mad. Besides being nervous and sensitive, I had learned something else about him and that was his love for food was often stronger than his distrust of us. The minutes accumulated to a point where I was starting to reconsider the intelligence of my decision and was about to get up when I heard a shift next to me. Basjan had moved to stand just a couple of inches from my feet, supposedly grazing, but really watching the carrots that was just out of reach. I stilled my breathing and closed my eyes, resting my hand closer to the carrots. I didn’t know where he was and only realized that he had finally moved in beside me when I felt his warm breath on his hands seconds before I heard him pick up a carrot and slowly started eating it. I opened my eyes and watched him as he watched me, his ears alert and his eyes wide with mistrust. I shifted slowly, inching my hand closer to him until I could stroke his nose and finally, enclose my hand around his halter. He jerked back, pulling me to my feet, but I held onto him and talked to him softly until he relaxed and ate the rest of the carrots that was left. I stood with him for a long time, talking to him, rubbing him down, allowing him to smell me and get to know me until I felt him relax under my touch and listen to my voice instead of listening for any signs of attack. I let him go then after one last pat and walked back to my car, praying that my sunburn had not been in vain.

It wasn’t.

Things slowly started changing after that. I could catch Basjan and slowly started working with him. It was slow going, and it still is. To borrow the theme from the movie Seabiscuit, Basjan had forgotten what it was to be a horse, and it took a lot of time to remind him what it was like and that it could actually be quite a lot of fun. The trick with him was not to be over eager but rather to let him do things at his own pace. I won’t lie and say that I didn’t have my doubts when I worked with him in the beginning, thinking that I had made a costly mistake. But, he proved himself to be open to change, open to new experiences and…

Open to me.

He gave me back a part of myself that I had lost and now that I had it back, I wasn’t going to give up on him or myself.


So, it’s Saturday.

I’m feeling less stretched, though still quite rushed but I’m used to that feeling. Today, I’m going to spend some quality time with my partner, take my horse for a long outride and cook, which is something I love doing. Tomorrow, I’m going to collect an old friend of mine who’s up here for a visit from our lovely Cape district. None of these activities involve some personal time for myself obviously, but it’s certainly better than working. And, the thing is that, in my partner, in my horse and in my friend, lay bits of myself that I can’t access on my own. So really, although it means that I can’t write and do the things that I really want to do, I’m being enriched none the less. I used to believe for a long time that I was meant to be alone but in truth, I’m a better person when I’m not.

Have a great weekend guys, and thank you for reading.

Stretched too thin.

Today, I feel as if I’m being stretched to thin. I think it’s the time of the year but I don’t feel up to coping with my life today. Not in a suicidal way I can assure you, just – if I had the choice, I’d spend the day in my bed and not get out. I haven’t had a day to myself in months, a day in which I could choose what I wanted to do and not be slave to anybody else’s wishes. Or, my own conscience for that matter. I wanted to spend the day writing (something I haven’t done since NaNoWriMo) and just take it easy but, I have to work tonight and now my morning will be taken by my sausage dog who seems to have a bladder infection. She’s very dear to me, and I don’t want to take the chance to ‘wait it out’. The problem is that this is silly season so most of the vets are booked full or not in office. When I’m done with this I have to go and take her so that I can sit at a vet and wait for an appointment. The only consolation that I have is that I’ll be able to take my book along. I might not be able to write but at least I can read then.

Sigh, lol.

I’m not fond of my life at the moment. I’d give up my favourite pair of shoes for a normal job.
And, I’m really worried about my dog.

Being Basjan Part 1.

The advertisement had read: “Very tame gelding, Boerperd (South African Breed), 9yrs, 15.2hh, good sale, everything included…”

My heart had leapt and I felt something pass through me. ‘This is my horse,’ I thought as I read the last line, trying to imagine what he would look like. ‘This is the one.’ I had looked at the number, then – slowly, painfully, put the newspaper back. I couldn’t afford a horse, having barely returned from England and living on a three part time job salary. ‘Even if I had the money,’ I thought, ‘where would I get the time?’ So, I walked away from the paper, my heart aching for the horse that I would never meet.

Two weeks passed, but I couldn’t forget the horse.

Then, one Sunday in September, I was lying in bed recovering from a very late night’s work and trying to psyche myself up for another shift. I received a call from my best friend Sumi, but decided not to take it. She tried twice, then left a voice message which, after much debate, I decided to take. “Call me as soon as you get this,” was all she said though I could hear in her voice that she was very excited about something. Unable to help myself, and realizing that I had to be careful not to slip down into my depression deeper, I returned her call. She hardly gave me time to greet her before blurting out:

“I think I’ve found you a horse, I’ve been talking to this woman…” My heart leapt and I knew immediately that it was the horse from the article. “I’ve been emailing her and she’s got this horse that she wants to sell. Alyss, I think he’s perfect for you. I saw the article in the…”

“Junkmail,” I finished for her. “I know which one you mean. It’s the Boerperd isn’t it?”

She confirmed that it was, and confessed that she’s been talking to the woman behind my back, trying to find out if she should show me the horse or not. Sumi’s family has a farm just outside my city. We’ve been riding together the past few years and have decided to start training for endurance riding together when I get the right horse. She herself has an Anglo-Arab stallion, a beautiful beast the colour of freshly minted gold. A palomino with a fierce temper, but with a protectiveness in him that would put most dogs to shame. I took a friend of mine along to the farm once and he refused to allow her near me. When Sumi is close, I daren’t speak to her harshly, or the horse would come for me, ears flat and teeth bared.
She gave me the number of the woman, telling me to: “Just talk to her…”

When she rang off, I lay there in bed, staring at the ceiling, staring at pictures of my old horse, Liverpool Lad, who I had had through high school. He had taken the best of me with him when he died, and I wasn’t sure whether I was willing to go through that again. None the less, I found myself dialling the number, unable to resist the pull that I had felt ever since I read that advertisement. As it was, I caught her mid-sale. When she greeted me, I could hear her tell someone to just hold on. I introduced myself and told her that my friend had referred me to her. She didn’t seem interested in the beginning, but dutifully asked me what I wanted to do with her horse and where he would stand. She also asked me about my riding history, which I quicky summed up for her in as quick and friendly a way as possible. As she listened to me, I could feel something change from her as she became warmer and more excited. I could offer her horse a large farm, with plenty of grazing, three companions (with a fourth on the way) and a lot of attention.

“I want you to come and see him,” she said. “I was about to sell him, but I’m going to stop it. I think you should see him. His name is Sebastian, but I call him Basjan.”

The name settled in me like a brand and I knew with a strange certainty that I was going to buy the horse.

We went the next week to go and look at him; both his owner and I were very busy and couldn’t make it earlier. Sumi went with me, barely able to contain her own excitement. By all accounts, the farm was actually quite close to theirs, though just on the other side of the mountain range. We went early, a little bit earlier than we had told his owner. It’s an old buyer’s trick. If you go early when you go and look at people’s horse, you don’t give them enough time to inject their horses with something that calms them down (if they are that type). It hardly seemed necessary though as we caught Basjan’s owner working in her garden. She greeted us warmly, and lead us down a path to where there were two small camps. I had struggled to contain my excitement up to that point, yet – when I saw Basjan for the first time my heart sank a little. He was painfully thin with a dull dark coat (almost black) and terribly neglected hooves. When I got into the camp with him he snorted in fear and moved to the furthest corner from me. Behind me, his owner shifted nervously while Sumi stayed well back, her face deep in thought.

“He gets like that,” she said apologetically. “He’s a one person’s horse. He’s not fond of me, but he likes my sister-in-law. She took care of him while I was sick.”

I looked back at her for explanation, trying to imagine where the sister-in-law fitted into the picture and why she wasn’t there to see us.

“I bought him for my husband,” Basjan’s owner explained. “But then I got sick shortly afterwards and couldn’t ride for months. My in-laws took care of my horses. They don’t ride per say, but they took well care of them…”

I grimaced and turned back to Basjan, who was snorting at me, a clear sign that he wasn’t happy. “And you’re selling him because…?”

She shrugged, looking at Basjan. “My husband doesn’t want to ride him,” she said. “And, I don’t have time for two horses. My sister-in-law’s moving and cant’ take him with her.”

It didn’t sound very positive, but already my mind was logging some positive aspects for Basjan. Firstly, despite being quite thin, I could see that he had a very good conformation and although he didn’t have the brand of the breed, I could see that he was definitively a Boerperd. His face had a trademark line from a specific stud in the area and although he wasn’t as tall as she said, he was a stocky horse. Or would be if he was fatter. I looked to my friend for conformation, who nodded. “Ride him,” Sumi said. “Let’s see what he can do.”

Knowing that she would’ve told me to leave if she didn’t see something worth trying, I helped his owner tack him up and walked him down to a small area where she said they grazed when there was grass. There wasn’t any, but it was the end of winter and very few places had natural grazing left. Her farrier had joined us at that time, and rode him for me first so that I could see his movement. Feeling depressed by my original assessment, I felt a little better when I saw Basjan’s pace, realizing that he would be a very comfortable horse judging from his stride. When it was my turn to mount him I took my time to adjust my stirrups and get up. I didn’t want to be disappointed.

I wasn’t. Basjan moved with a grace that I’ve felt in very few horses. I’ve ridden well over a hundred different horses in my life, having ridden people’s problem horses for years as well as working with them now. When Basjan trotted, he felt as if he was soaring, and his canter…
He was slow though and felt tired, but I ticked it up to the fact that he had not been fed yet and that someone else had come to look at him the day before. I didn’t say anything as I got off of him and told Sumi to feel him as well. I saw her face light up as she started trotting him around and she only did one round when she came back and leapt of off his back.

“Maatjie,” she told me, her Afrikaans nickname for me, “buy him.”

I didn’t talk immediately, but took the reins from her and stood there beside Sebastian, aware of everybody’s eyes on me, aware of his presence, his scruffy coat and his ribs showing painfully underneath the saddle. I looked at his face, into his eyes, and saw something there, the something that I had felt when I read the article that very first time.

“I’ll take him,” I said finally, whispering it as I touched his neck to smell him, the weight of my commitment settling on me. “I want him to be mine.”

Because, in a sense, I felt as if he already was…