Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth, that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Horse is a Horse of Course

It is hard to believe that in my lifetime someone successfully pitched a show that was in turn a 5 year prime time hit about a horse living in a barn who dispensed sage advice to his nerdy, architect owner.  Mr. Ed. Deep title, too. The entire "special effects" was that the horse's wiggling lips wiggled. I cannot remember anything much about the show (61-66 so I was just a toddler) beyond Ed's twitching lips and voice, and the catchy song, which, running through my head, is almost powerful enough to function as a time portal into a black and white world. I am not crazy about horses; they 're beautiful and justifiably icons of power, yet I never caught the fever. Everyone else in my family, however, has been covered in horse hives as long as I can remember, whether it is dandying up for the foxhunt or punching cattle in Wyoming; I think my family alone is the reason veterinary medicine continues to be a burgeoning career path.

Although I have much to write about here in Thailand, I wanted to post once more on my time in Australia, since the bulk of my time there was spent about 3 hours drive north of beautiful Bondi Beach, in the heart of horse country, Scone (1/2 hour by plane. 1 hour by helicopter!). Our first stop was the horse races in Muralla, the dusty, low-rent version of the Kentucky Derby. No, that is not accurate. The Muralla races are to the Kentucky Derby what my now officially-in-the-trash-heap Chinese Zoom bike is to a 2011 Porsche Cayman. The running track isn't even flat. The horses...well, when I asked about their potential to move up from this venue I caused several people to spray their drinks through their noses.
This explains why I missed the first six races, as everyone was much more interested in drinking and socializing than in the races themselves.  When I asked what time they were going to start, a kind woman explained to me if we went over in a hurry we might catch the final one, which is what we all did. The caliber of the races in no way impeded the sporting nature of the event.We all dressed up and Lei Lei had a blast rummaging under the picnic tables and being fawned on by everyone in sight. She reminded me of the Saudi sheik who said, " I know one of the horses crosses the finish line first, I just don't care which one it is."

Of all the extended family who has the horse bug, my nephew Angus has parleyed it to his best advantage. Already he has earned the prize of National Geographic Young Explorer of the Year for being the first non-Mongolian to ride in the brutal, famous, yearly competitions, even placing and having a prize-winning documentary made about it.

Here Angus is competently handling one of the monstrous diesel Toyota trucks on the property, but where he truly shines is atop the equine species. One look across the ranch and you can see why it is horse country. There are many areas inaccessible by any other means.

For all my green-leanings, I am much more excited about the prospect of sitting astride a gas guzzling, air polluting, steel horse, though they cannot quite get everywhere a horse can. Angus raced me on his horse one day and he was ahead the whole time until we got to a wide open straightaway.

At least I had my other nephew, Benjamin, to take me places.While Intense Angus is on the lookout for the ultimate contests and proving grounds( he wants to be a US Navy Seal someday), and he is one damn tough cookie, Benjamin is mostly on the lookout for a comfy nest near the TV in his PJ's with some nice ice cream and cookies.

Much of my stay was geared around Angus' participation in The King of the Ranges, an all-round cowboy contest the dream of every local working rider. Unlike the rodeos I have seen in the States (which frankly, one every five years or so is plenty, the smaller the venue the better), KR tries to duplicate the variety of skills used in ranching and tests to see who is the best genuine hand. This means they have to ride a course while cracking a bullwhip at things on the ground (to mimic snakes), pack and unpack a saddle horse, and catch and lead a wild mustang, among other skills such as shoeing:

It was clear from the trailers and trucks of the competitors that most all of them were truly working stiffs, bound back to some isolated ranch when the hubbub was over. There were mostly real Aussie cowboys in the stands as well. Here is Jason, a ranch hand, taking care of Lei Lei.
But the horse high jinks did not end there. I was also fortunate to time my trip with the local Scone parade, and that meant dressing up as the infamous Ned Kelly gang and going up and down main street, one of the strangest and most wonderful things I never imagined I would do, and the reason I see no point in spending hard-earned dollars to hallucinate.
Not sure what is going through Lei Lei's head as we did this, but after all she has been through at 19 months, I guess she is pretty much ready for anything.

It would not have been a complete horse vacation without a spot of polo, so we went to see David play just before I left. Polo, to 99% of the population an word that means a fashion house, in person is a rough, intense, exciting sport. David only began playing a few years back. I do not know how he braves it. The only thing in greater volume than speeding horse flesh is testosterone (and the rare female participant has something of obviously equal intense motivational goading).  Though the fans left me cold (probably the only snotty Aussies I saw in three weeks, and really, they weren't that bad in comparison- about the equivalent of the average Parisian store clerk), the action was terrific. Too bad it isn't more of a spectator sport instead of all those damned rodeos!

Though I remain uninfected by the horse-loving plague after witnessing all form of use and variety, I was also far from tired of being in Aussie horse country. This is where David grew up, and why he is so grounded. The geography itself is humbling and the locals fantastically genuine, generous, tough, not to mention funny as hell. One of the other activities we attended was a Johnny Cash impersonator! I could not have enjoyed three weeks more had I been at Trump Towers bathing in a solid gold tub.
The method whereby they got the famous Mr. Ed to move his horsey lips remains a mystery, like the show's 5 year success. It has been long enough- Perhaps it is time for a movie version starring my nephew Angus directed by Michel Bay with a 200 million dollar budget and a thousand explosions? Then we were off in David's plane back to Sydney. I was rested and ready to get back to teaching my Thai kids. Thanks David and Claire and Angus and Benjamin and Lei Lei!

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