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.
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.