My horse Hurlyburly buss


Among the gora sahibs at Calcutta Horse society's equestrian classes in 1948, I was the only Indian, and passionate about learning riding as a 15 year old. Major Fred Coster, a stern taskmaster at the riding academy would put me, an absolute beginner, on horses without saddles/stirrups. He'd say: "On the animal's bare back, you'll learn to balance right away.  The comfort of a saddle under the butt, and prop of stirrups to anchor your legs will have to wait," and he'd grin menacingly.

It was tough going. I'd had nasty falls in the riding ring, broken two pairs of glasses but had broken no bones. I soon became his star student, went on to win many accolades including some in show jumping events. Then at age 16, I got my family's permission to stop monthly hiring of horses and get one of my own.

That is how the 16 hands (64 inches) high Australian bay gelding came into my life. He was a reject from the Tollygunj Race Course as he was a non performer, and "fit only as a hack." He came with this awful name: he was called 'Benaam' (without name).

First off, as new boy owner, I decided to give him a name of my choosing.  I considered naming him Chingachgook, borrowed from the name of a Red Indian chief in a cowboy movie of the '40s. I finally decided on Hurlyburlybuss for reasons known only to a gung-ho teenage rider.

Then began my life with Hurlyburlybuss – not only making him learn to obey commands of trot, canter, right turn, left turn – all of which was quite a change for an animal always made to gallop full blast, to win races.

No one had been gentle with him in his racehorse avatar. He was not used to a human talking to him at length, feeding him fresh cut carrots and sugar cubes. He responded, and together we learned to do zigzag patterns in the riding ring, dressage, and then jumping, even participating in polo chukkers. We were a team and my riding mornings before school were a joy in all weathers. Some afternoons, when there would be no riding, I'd shoot the breeze with him at the stables. Sundays were for his special khana: bran mash and Lucerne grass and gur. My! How he'd whinny then!    

We evolved. Taking cues from movie cowboy hero Roy Rogers' horse Trigger, who'd come at the phweep of a whistle, I'd taught him to do that, had done better and reached a stage where in that leafy environment of the Calcutta stables, I'd hide behind a tree and whistle. Hurlyburlybuss would find me hidden, nudge me with his snout for the reward of a sugar cube, and quiver his nostrils with a soft affectionate snort. He'd even seek me out as I hid behind a closed barn door at the stable and called out in my yoddling tone going Hoh Orrly Boh-Orrly Boooss.

I'd had on occasion visited Santragachhi, where an animal shelter was run charitably. 

Among the retired creatures was a magnificent grey horse that I saw constantly shedding tears.  He was lame and when a horse's fetlock, or any part of leg bone is damaged, it is beyond repair. Horses' leg bones are like glass – they do not heal, and cause great pain. A bullet is put through such a one's head instantly to put him out of his misery.  The Hindu owner of that grey horse did not want the sin of taking the grey horses's life – that would be himsa. So the animal was looked after, given fodder, water, baths and mild daily exercise and lived a life of misery, constant pain and tears.

Then it happened to me/us. Hurlyburlybus had a fall during a polo chukker and couldn't get up.  After much coaxing, he did get up on three legs, while one leg hung limp. "There is no other go," said Major Coster, "he will have to be put down." And a crestfallen 17- year old Hindu boy consented to take Hurlyburly's life, despite the love of a friend who'd come at the call of a whistle, and play hide and seek with yoddled strains of Ho Orly Bo Orly Boooss.

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