Monday, May 28, 2012


A HORSE WITH NO NAME. A favorite annual activity at Camp Stotsenburg is the holding of a Sports Week or Sports Carnival, which featured  equestrian events such as polo, horseback riding and horse dressage, which includes obstacle racing such as the one shown on the photo above. ca. 1915.

Fort Stotsenburg, the precursor of Clark Air Base, started as a military camp with the size of 7,600 acres. By 1908, it had expanded to 158,277 acres, to include parts of Dolores in Mabalacat, Bamban and Zambales Mountains, including the Pinatubo area. The size and breadth of the enlarged military camp was perfect for exploration and adventure, especially on horseback. Soon, Stotsenburg became an ideal equestrian paradise, the site of many horse-based sports competition, field events and exhilarating horse rides on mountain sides and ridges, amidst wild but spectacular surroundings.

 A certain Capt. H. A. Myers was lavish in his recommendation of the camp environs, noting that “the Stotsenburg Reservation and nearby country in general, offers much that is worthwhile for persons interested in mounted activities. Not only is there much pleasure to be derived from riding over the country, but there is much beautiful scenery and many interesting landmarks to be seen”. Horse trails led to the lush and luxuriant Fern Canyon, whose main attractions are its variety of giant ferns that dot its landscape. There was also a Lost Canyon that abounded with colored birds and orchids.

Trails were fancifully named according to the natural characteristics of the terrain—Three Crater Trail, Top o’ the World Hill, Banyan Trail, Dead Horse Pass Trail and Dry River Bed Trail, among others. Soldiers and their families took to riding these trails during their off-duty hours every Wednesday, with pit stops along the way. There were waterfalls and swimming holes where people could take refreshing dips as well as good viewing spots from where one could survey the camp and the surrounding areas. But it was easy to get lost too, and there have been reported cases of missing people. In 1919 for example, 4 army men were trapped by rising waters in a narrow canyon along the Bamban River, necessitating their rescue by the daring army pilot, Lt. Ira Eaker. 

Meanwhile, equestrian field events were being introduced as early as 1909 in Stotsenburg. The most popular were the polo games, and at one point, the polo teams of the camp claimed to be the best in the Far East. During the term of post commander, Brig. Gen. Hagood Johnson, the army polo team played against the visiting Prince of Wales (the future Edward VIII) in 1922. Polo fields were laid out in the base parade grounds and regular polo tournaments were soon being held every April, during the Sports Week. Though skilled and experienced, the American team were no match against the “Los Tamaraos” (the team of Elizalde brothers), which had more superior horses that the Filipino-Spanish millionaires could very well afford.

 In the mid 20s, Stotsenburg held Sports Carnivals that included golf, ball games and riding events. The equestrian competition included dressage, horse-jumping events and bareback riding, with silver cups awarded to champion teams and individual winners. Much of the riding trails have all but been changed with the continuous alteration and modification of the camp grounds. The eruption of Mount Pinatubo obliterated not just the trails but also permanently changed the landscape of the military base. Beginning in 2009, the picnic grounds of Clark Field became alive again with the sounds of trotting horses and ponies.

Today, the spacious grounds near the Mabalacat exit gate have been transformed into a riding range, with a pseudo-main street complex that sports a wild, wild west theme complete with a salon named “El Kabayo”. Here, one can rent horses and ponies by the hour, for a leisurely ride around the picturesque grassy trail canopied by giant mimosa trees. The sight of smiling kids on ponies led by guides and more experienced riders galloping at full speed certainly brings back memories of old Clark in the 1920s and 30s, when it held repute among sports and leisure lovers as an equestrian paradise.

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