Thursday, 9 February 2012
About sixteen years ago, while my horse was still alive, a young boy called Antonio of 13 years old used to come every day after school to visit me and my horse at the stables because he was just mad on horses and in fact he adored all animals. He had his own horse but he didn't ride her that often because she was still in the stages of being educated by one of his uncles. So he would come to watch how I groomed mine, how I exercised him in the arena and then afterwards when I used to take my horse on the lead to nibble at grass as his reward for having behaved so well, Antonio would walk beside me and get me to answer as many of his questions as I could about my knowledge of horses.
The first thing that I always say to anyone who asks me questions, is what my father always taught me, which is that with horses you never get to know it all, you are forever learning more things about them with every new experience that you undergo by their side.
Antonio was one of those young boys that had such a pure and good heart. He was always thinking about his family and his friends and he somehow even managed to get me talking about my own personal life which was anything but happy in those days being married to my horrible ex husband. This was also the reason why I spent as much time with my horse as I could because when I was at the stables I was at peace but when I was at home I was a nervous wreck because I never knew when my husband was going to pick on me for supposedly having done something wrong like for example serving his supper five minutes late!
This young boy was so intuitive that he used to tell me that my horse was my medicine and it was him that kept me going which was completely and utterly true. Although I think back and think that maybe if I hadn't had my horse my life would have been double fold unbearable and I would have left my husband much earlier on than I actually did which would have been a good thing as in the end I actually wasted 25 years of my young life with the wrong man. But on the other hand I have to add that I have learnt that nothing in life is wasted as every thing you go through, whether good or bad is at the end of the day an experience and an extra lesson to be learnt about life. When you go through bad times it also makes you appreciate and enjoy the good times even more. And nothing in life lasts forever, neither good times nor bad times, so as they say you have to learn how to take the good and the bad.
In no time at all Antonio was coming out for rides with me on his bicycle but as time went on his mare had at last been reasonably educated and so he asked whether he could come out for a ride with me on his mare and I of course agreed. I had never had children of my own and at the age of 45 my chances of having any had more than come to their end (which probably was just as well with the husband that I had!). So obviously, as a woman I still had a few maternal instincts left inside of me and I really got to love this young boy and talk to him as if he were my son.
We had fantastic rides down to the beach, over gentle hills, down by the river and even rounded up some cattle together. He had so much life in him and was excited and enthralled about everything. I must admit that there were some times that I used to think to myself 'why can't he be quiet for just a few moments' but for a young boy with so much zest for life this is just too much to ask, and so I forgot about trying to shut him up and just patiently carried on listening to all his stories about the animals that he had rescued, the Dalmatian puppy that his parents were going to get him and the Persian kitten that one day he hoped to have!
Two years went by when one day he arrived at the stables looking quite forlorn and not at all his same bubbly self. I asked him what was up and he replied that he had developed a lump on his knee and that he had to go to a hospital in Seville to have a biopsy. I told him not to worry because I had had an operation on my knee to remove some broken off cartilage and that nowadays they didn't even cut you open any more but just did everything through three small incisions that they made in your knee. But nevertheless I began to feel a bit nervous because I didn't think that he was telling me the whole story.
He soon began to lose his hair, his eyelashes and his eyebrows and apparently all his friends were starting to make fun of him as he ended up by being completely bald. I told him not to worry and for him to tell them that it was very fashionable to be bald just like Bruce Willis but I also bought him a baseball cap in order that he could hide his baldness.
Whenever he came back from Seville he would always be very weak for the first few days and so I would forget about riding my horse, leave him out in a corral for him to have a day off exercise and I would go off to Antonio's house to visit him and spend the afternoon watching animal documentaries on the television and talking about life.
After about six months the doctors thought that everything might at last be under control and he was described as being in remission. He slowly started to get his strength back but he was very sad because he said that with his bad leg he would never be able to ride again. 'What?' I told him. 'Having one bad leg is no reason for you not to be able to ride again at all. There are lots of people that manage to do it and so you are going to do it as well'.
With the help of his uncle we managed to teach his young mare to bend her front legs and kneel down on the ground so that her back/saddle were much much lower. Antonio had to stand beside her, put his good leg into the stirrup and we would help him swing his bad right leg over and to the other side. We would then tie the bad leg with a grass twine which was strong enough to hold the leg in position but weak enough to break should anything unexpected happen. Then once he had both legs in position and was sitting down in the saddle we would tell his mare, who was called Furia, to get up and when she did there was Antonio sitting on the saddle and in exactly the right position.
And we were able to continue to ride together for quite a few months more. His hair began to grow again and I felt so happy for him as I really thought he was going to get over this until he began quite a nasty cough and then I began to worry again. It's funny as well that I think that Antonio himself knew that something bad was heading his way because he suddenly said to me one day that he didn't think that he was going to last much longer and that his main worry was that he hoped that his parents would be okay after he had gone. It nearly broke my heart when he told me this although I tried to put on a brave face always for him. and told him not to worry because he was going to get over everything.
My father was in fact suffering from lung cancer at the very same time and every now and then I would have to leave Antonio to get on a plane to go and visit my father in England. When Antonio used to ask me how my father was getting on, I admittedly lied to him saying that he was getting better day by day and it was a horrific lie because I knew that my father was also dying but I didn't wan't Antonio to know this or else he would have given up all hope himself.
On one of our last rides he told me that he had never galloped and that it was his dream to be able to do it one day and so I told him that if that is what he wanted to do then that is exactly what we would do. His mare was very young and still a bit flighty sometimes and so I thought of how to do this in the safest way possible and I came up with the answer. I told Antonio that we were going to head for a very long and steep hill that I knew of and that I was going to go first. He was going to go behind me and hold onto the pommel of his saddle and just forget about his reins because as he was behind me his mare would do everything that my horse did and if she did indeed get too excited and not want to stop I would just hinder her with the rear of my horse in her face!!
Well it all worked beautifully and just how I had planned it and still to this day I can remember the look of exhilaration on Antonio's face as we both galloped up towards the top of the hill and then both stopped perfectly and without any problems. He was so happy and I was so glad to have been able to give him this joy in his life.
Unfortunately he began to deteriorate quite quickly after that and in fact never rode again. I myself also gave up riding my horse (although he ended up having a month's holiday in the corral) while I went every afternoon to sit by Antonio's bed. The cancer had by now reached his lungs and he had these huge orange tanks of oxygen by his bed which he used for breathing. His breathing was forced and difficult and my heart broke every time I saw him.
On the last afternoon that I was with him he asked me whether we would be able to go riding again soon and I said that of course we could. I described to him a new ride that I had found that would take us through a lovely shady forest and then out onto a long grassy plain where we could have a fantastic gallop together. He smiled as he started to fall asleep from the exhaustion of his forced breathing and I kissed him gently on his forehead for the last time because the next day I had to fly to England to visit my also dying father.
After two days of being in England with my father I received a phone call from a friend of mine - Antonio had died. I can't tell you how stunned I was and there were so many conflicting feelings going through my head. My sadness for my adored father that was going to die any day, which he in fact died one month later, and my sadness for a young pure boy that could have given so much to life but was rudely taken away just before his seventeenth birthday.
To this day I still go to his niche, not on the day that he died, but on his birthday which was the 3rd March because I want to celebrate the life that he had and not his death, and I always leave him a sprig of winter jasmine. I am so pleased that I got to know this young boy and so sad that I had to see him go at such a young age. He was at the end of the day the nearest thing to the son that I never had.