Children today absolutely find amusement in horses. In fact, as child, no vacation on Baguio City is complete without a few hours on rented horses that circle Wright Park.
On our recent visit to Tagaytay City, we took time to go horseback riding. On this part of the Tagatay Ridge, horses carry young and old through the mist and green space for a glimpse of Taal Volcano, when not bringing farmers into coffee fields and cut-flower plantations.
Filipinos Love Horses
The horse or locally known as the kabayo has a special place in Philippine culture. Some say that the island of Luzon resembles the head of the horse. One of the leading authorities in Filipino culture, Felice Prudente-Sta. Maria explains that “Filipinas” could not have been a more appropriate name for Spain’s Asian citadel since Felipe means “love of horses.” This reveals Spain’s caballo as etymological root and Felipe II’s settlers as pioneering caballeros (cavaliers).
According to Sta. Maria, horses had been employed early for combat and transportation. In Sulu, residents use the ancient Malayan word kuda and caparison with wooden saddles inlaid intricately in mother of pearl. Horses are heroic in the centuries-old, national epic Darangen (kin to The Mahabharata) from Maranaw culture. The T’bolis, who value valiant steeds, encourage horse fighting as special entertainment. Filipino followers of Islam learn that God created the horse from wind, and gave it station and power above all beasts subject to man.
In Tagaytay, we saw several rigs being drawn by horses. Many still earn their living driving horse-drawn rigs called the kalesas and caretelas, especially in provincial towns and some narrow streets in Downtown Manila.
Historian Ambeth Ocampo wrote an essay about the days when mano and silya were maneuvering imperatives for “turning right’ and “turning left.” At a time When the Calesa Rule the Streets of Manila, the coachman (cochero) held his whip in the right hand (mano), while his chair (silya) was on the carriage’s left.
The Sure-Footed Kabayo
Among the several horses that were lined up, we choose Astra. Astra is a native breed and comparably smaller than the other horses. But his caretaker guaranteed that he is gentle and sure-footed.
Native breeds are said to have originated from the small Andalusian variety and Chinese mare, possibly that which arrive on July 16, 1574. Sulu and Indian admixtures, Arabian stallions, Mexican mustangs, Timor ponies, and North American thoroughbreds have been imported for local breeding.
Although criticized as small, shaggy and unimpressive, the kabayo is acknowledged as hardy, patient, affectionate, sure-footed, and able to outlast an imported horse of twice its size and seemingly ten times its strength.
When I asked friends to name the pet they wanted to have. A friend told me that she would love to have a unicorn or a winged-horse like Pegasus as pet. Another mentioned a tikbalang!
The tikbalang is probably the strangest horse to own. This mythological creature is often describe in oral and written literature as all horse except for the chest and forearm which are human. It is said the creature brings menace and induce nightmares.
According to old folk’s tale, the tikbalang can only be tamed by a brave rider capable of clinging on while the beast of superhuman strength jumps to the moon and back in a quest for freedom. If tamed, a tikbalang is the most helpful field hand. He serenades the full moon with a guitar which makes one wonder if he is but a bewitched equerry.
The Horse-Borne Saint
My fascination to horses began since I was a child. I wanted to own horse that would take me to places as I ride like an experienced rider riding into the wind.
Perhaps the most famous horse rider in the Philippines is St. James the Great. He is usually depicted in religious art as the saint astride on a horse. In Spain, St. James is known as Santiago Matamoro (St. James Slayer of the Moor). He is the same Santiago who stands guard over the Spanish Fortress of Empire that bears his name. As the patron saint of Spain, the apostle is believed to have evangelized Iberia, united Leon and Castille, assited El Cid against the Moors in Coimbra.
In the Mindanao town of Dapitan, which is situated in a traditionally Islamic area, the saint’s power is re-enacted in a folk drama called kinabayo, derived from the Moorish military dance. Parishioners dress as conquistadores and moros some on foot, other on hoofs. While leaders ride live mounts used to farming rather than charging, an ordinary calvaryman marches inside a large bamboo and paper stallion held up by suspenders.
The horse-borne saint also revels in a non-combative parade in Plaridel, Bulacan every December 29.
Showing Off Equestrian Prowess
Astra begin galloping on the green space. At this point, we felt like true horsemen showing off our equestrian prowess.
The refinement of horsemanship climaxed in the province of Pampanga during the Spanish era. Known for is lavish hospitality, the rigodon had been introduced by Spanish nobility as opening choreography for grand balls. In Porac, Kapampangan danced the rigodon on horseback to parade equestrian prowess and the fine stock of their stables.
The same elegance characterized Manila Jockey Club races held spring-time where ladies held parasols and gentlemen in Ascot ties. Manila’s 6,000 carriages led by the Governor General’s livelier coach opened the gala event. Only the King’s representative was allowed to have six stallions pulling his rig, everyone else had to settle for less.