A picture of my father and his sibling exist in one of our old albums, showing off their small, but fine steed. I never bothered to ask the name of their family horse, which I assumed, was used by my Ingkung in checking out his farm holdings in Bundagul and Mabiga. I bet my father and my uncle rode this horse all around the spacious backyard, and maybe even around town. The horse was kept in my granduncle’s house next door, perhaps in his spacious garage. The horse was most definitely tended by Tatang Simon, my father’s family driver.
The horse was never an ideal animal for our wet farmlands—the damulag which could efficiently plow through mud was perfect for the job. In Europe, however, the horse ruled the dry wheat fields of Europe. Even then, the horse has managed to find a special place in Philippine pop culture.
“Kabayo”, is derived from the Spanish word “caballo”, and to this day, we call it as such, whether dappled, spotted or tan. In those times, many horse driven carriages were a convenient way to move around the country. In Manila, there were the ‘quilez” (a one-horse rig), the “tartanilla” (2 wheeled horse carriage) and the horse-drawn “tranvia”.
During the Hispanic era, the art of horsemanship was integrated in the grand dances of old Pampanga. As a striking musical preface to the spectacular balls, it was said that Kapampngans danced the rigodon on horseback to display their equestrian skills and to flaunt their fine steed, fit for royalty.
In and around the provinces like Pampanga, the more humble “karomata”and “kalesa”were more popular, their arrival announced by the pleasant tinker of the calesa bell and the rhythmic trot of the horse, with blinders and leather harness, arrayed with silver bridles, decorations and plumed headdress. To this day, the horse-drawn kalesa, though handful in number, continues to ply the dusty side roads of many Kapampangan towns, alongside jeeps and trikes.
The animal has enriched our local culture, belief system and language; there are local adages that refers to the handsome steed, to wit: “Ing cabayung e queca, paburen me qng lacad na”(Leave a horse that is not yours, to trot along, read; Mind your own business). Another one goes, “Ïng cabayung alang rienda, capilitan managuinis ya” (A horse with no reins will be forced to bite).
Philippine riddles make allusions too, to the horse: “Kabayu ng Adan, e mangan nung eme sakyan” (Adam’s horse will not eat unless you ride on it. Ans.: coconut grater). A more cryptic riddle runs: “Ing buntuk na kabayo, ïng batal na pari, ing katawan na ulad, ing bitis na lagari.” (It’s got the head of a horse, the neck of a priest, the body of a worm, the feet of a saw. Ans.: Locust).
Around the house, there are domestic objects that refer to the horse. The animal gave its name to the old folding wooden ironing boards that resembled the 4-legged creature--the ‘pakabayu”. In the 19th century, children played “juego de anillo”, a game in which they attempted to collect hanging rings with a wooden sword while riding hobby horses of sticks. “Kabayuan” is to ride the back of a playmate in a horseplay, while “mangabayu”refers to the horse rider. Ironically, despite the graceful form and handsome figure of the horse, to be called “lupa kang kabayu” (to have the face of the horse) was tantamount to being called ugly.
Blame it on the horrific image of the “tikbalang", that huge cigar-smoking, tree-sitting denizen of Philippine folklore who took the shape and features of a horse, albeit elongated and uglier looking. The movies too, perpetuated the image of a laughable horse—as in the 1958 fantasy film about a talking horse, “Silveria, Ang Kabayong Tsismosa”, starring Dolphy. Why, even a comedian became famous in the 80s because of his resemblance to a horse—“Ritchie D’Horsie”.
Richard III may have lost his life and kingdom for a horse, but this trusty animal has existed long enough to witness the gallantry of men and heroes: Bucephalus led Alexander the Great to his many conquests, Rocinante followed Don Quixote to his many adventures and an unnamed white steed of the young boy general, Gregorio Del Pilar accompanied him to his martyrdom. In recent memory, a world-class horse raced to glory with Kapampangan equestrienne Mikee Cojuangco’s gold medal winning performance at the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, Korea.
Loyal, dependable and trustworthy, our equine friend has certainly managed to gallop its way into our hearts, homes and history.