Chapter one in the Isa – Beau Adventures

Beau is an amazing person. She lives in a world dramatically different then many people can imagine. At the age of ten she moved to India with her mother. Although she was born in Holland she sees India as her home.

We met for the first time at a stable in Auroville, South India, where a horse I was caring for lived. Beau and I got to know each other very fast. We soon trusted each other with our lives and spent as much time together as we could.

Years after we met Beau told me of a new project she was organizing. It turned out that she had come in contact with a friendly Dutch family moving to Tiruvannamalai, Beau’s home town. This family was looking for activities in India for their only child. Beau heard of this, as well as the fact that this boy, Sasha, enjoyed horseback riding and she immediately snatched the opportunity and conjured a plan.
She spoke with the family about her wide experience with horses and shared ideas and possibilities with them. Since there were no riding institutions in the radius of 150 km Beau suggested that they would buy two horses. They owned plenty of land so it was no problem for them to do this. Sasha would also have a unlimited opportunity to learn about horses.
During the winter months of the year 2008 Beau began to look into this idea and analysed what would be needed to make it work. The family approved of her idea and it was set into motion.
Over this time Beau shared the idea with me and explained her motivations for organizing the project. She had the responsibility of designing the stables, finding and buying the horses, and calculating costs, everything. But the exciting part was that, since the family in question didn’t have any experience with horses, she would practically be the owner of them.
When I heard this I was thrown off my feet in awe. She had come up with the idea and confidently accepted the responsibility involved. I was astonished. I remember Beau saying “Isa, could we do this project together, you and I? It would be really fu…” My thoughts cut her off, I was breathless, my mind racing away on two horses with Beau over the Indian planes. “Of course! yes, yes, yes!” I dropped my life and left for Tiru.

Bag packed with horse equipment and a small
 bundle of clothes, off to Tiru it was!

It was at this point that Beau and i began to explore our strengths as a team. It was time to get the act on the road.

Beau began contacting riding institutions around South India in search of one pony and a larger horse. We knew that the Divali festival was coming. Every year on the full moon in December millions of people from all over India would come to the city of Tiruvannamalai. They walked the 7 km ring road around the the holy mountain Arunachalai, to then finally climb to its summit where a large basin full of ghee (a type of clarified butter) stood burning creating a great fire. This upcoming festival also, very conveniently hosted an annual horse market. But in the market the scarcity of finding a horse that is both physically and mentally healthy is in fact frightening for any “Velakara” (westerner or white skinned in Tamil, the language of the region). 

In India, the choice of horses is very limited. The most common horses are small ponies, or the neighborhood “trash”. These ponies are sold at low costs during the annual markets all over India. Broken thoroughbred “spills” from the race track are also given for free to any taker, versus being slaughtered. But strongly contrasting these two are the well entitled “Kings Horses”, India’s very own Kathiawari and Marwari breeds. The now few remaining horses in the breeds being the remnants of India’s finest war horses, in the time when that was real.

One early morning in November, 2008, Beau and I set off by taxi to Bangalore. We were intent on finding a healthy and strong and humble horse and were set to buy if we succeeded. Since Beau and I were accustomed to traveling with local buses taking a taxi gave a pure luxury feeling. Buses were extremely cheap and a memory for life each time; hot and sweaty, live with the smells of the passing villages and people crammed in so tight that they pop out the windows. Women adorned with their beautiful sarees and golden jewelry sat together on one row, while the men sat on another. But not this trip. We sat lazily watching the scenery fly by, every once in while trying to strike a few words in Tamil with the driver, and embarrassed ourselves.
Our first visit was to one of Bangalore’s riding stables. I had memories of this place. I had spent my eleventh birthday here and participated in a riding lesson. I was thrown up on the back of a young Marwari, who had recently been taken out of the racing industry and he surely proved this past to me. I had accidentally leaned forward which turned out to be a queue and he raced four uncontrollable laps around the arena with me before he was finally stopped by the teacher. We were all quite surprised I survived that, well, that I stayed on. Although honestly I was thrilled the whole time and thought of it as a great experience.
I was now here again, 6 years later and quite surprised to have ever returned. We had arrived early so we had some time till the manager of the stables would meet us. Being the young obnoxious (non-) ladies we were we took the liberty to see ourselves around. We fluttered through just about every stable corner and took a peak at the numerous equine souls hosted there. The manager had explained in an email that the horse we would look at was white with brown spots. We decided to stroll around and see if we could find him. Takoda (meaning friend of all in Native American), which he would come to be called, stood lonesomely in his own small rectangular paddock, smelling the flowers…
Once we found Takoda we confidently jumped the fence into his paddock and “shook hoofs”; watched him move and let him come inspect us. Did he trust humans? Was he afraid of things easily? Any obvious health issues? We soon waddled easily around the paddock while he tagged after nibbling at my hat (somehow the smell of leather had gotten to him. It was an interesting phenomenon he seemed to say). Later on the manager arrived she then formally introduced us to Takoda and we both rode him. He was young spirited and energetic. Since he would be primarily for Beau, and Sasha would have his own pony, it didn’t matter if Koda (which became his nickname) was a more difficult horse.
Before making any irrational decisions that day we visited another stable “ the Princess Stables”. Along with the ridiculous name came a disgrace to the horse world. An institution that leased horses for Bollywood films, as well as an amateur riding school and a resale junction for Marwari’s imported from the north. With bamboo poles tied between trees these skinny, soul-less horses were kept contained in their own dirt till they would be sold or used. We new right away we didn’t want anything to do with supporting this place. We quickly left this place and drove back to the other stables to claim Takoda
Koda would stay in Bangalore till the stables back home were finished and we had found a friend for him.
Beau began to design the stables with guidance from an architect (a relative of Beau’s) who had designed the families house on the same property. Since India has a warm climate, the needs of the horses were few and beside from the stables needing to be shelter from sun, wind and rain, she had very free hands. It became a very cozy looking “keet roofed” (which is a braided palm leaf) cement floored hut with metal poles for walls.

Now Divali was upon us. We visited the market everyday over the three days it was running. Among the hundred shabby ponies we spotted an interesting horse who caught our eye. At first we judged this horse as an aggressive mare, but we turned out to be quite wrong about him. He turned out to be a gelding and due to his overgrown hooves was in pain and had thus taken on ta very sour expression. By the time we had explored the whole market we returned him and both Beau and I had become attached to this horse. He had the looks of an angel, two blue eyes and a golden mane. We kept getting the feeling that he had a very deep soul that yearned to be understood. I remember Beau and I agreeing that if we had had the money and a more stable lifestyle we would have bought Majura ourselves right then and there. But for Sasha, an 8 year old boy with little experience? We were initially uncertain if it was a good idea.

We returned the next day to give him a chance. In a small field in the back of the market we rode him to see how he reacted to a rider. Our insecurities were rapidly changing and by the end of the three days our decision was made, it was time to take him home.
That evening was an adventure in itself. This was the biggest night of the festival. We had just payed for Majura and were going to walk him to a friend’s cow shed which was near the market. He would then stay there till the next morning when we would come to walk him home. The interesting part about that night was getting him to the shed. We would have to lead him on the ring road which was crammed with people all walking like a ravenous river around the mountain. We also realized we had to walk against the stream to get there. To make matters even more complicated, we had no idea how Majura would handle any of this. To our shear surprise this horse was calmer then a sleeping cat. We plowed through the hordes of people, bumping in to women who screamed in shock and men who would follow us dreadfully curious of these two young female velakara and wanting to pat the horse. It was an amazing scene; people all around, loud noises, sarees in the colors of the rainbow passing by us and lights shinning from all the shops and food stands. There we were – Beau, this beautiful horse and I. We felt like royalty.
A month had past, the stables were finished and Majura was patiently eating the few straws of grass left from the monsoon in his new home. It was now time transport Koda to Tiru. The plan was to take a taxi to Bangalore and then travel together with Koda back home in a vandi, a medium size truck. 
That day in Bangalore we had a lot of time to waste so we decided to ride Koda before loading him into the vandi. This was also convenient because it would drain his energy so the coming trip would be less dangerous. A slightly hectic afternoon had soon passed where Beau and I took turns riding Koda, who, since he hadn’t been ridden in the last six months was packed with energy. Once the evening began to roll in we packed up and prepared for the journey ahead.

The events of that evening were not experiences that Beau and I are proud of. This vandi, which was the best sort of transport available, was a simple truck which the stable’s staff had filled with straw and tied bamboo poles inside to make a compartment for Koda. We decided that I would lead him in, which I did with surprising ease. But I was relieved too soon. The staff was going to tie the remaining poles to keep Koda in place and then due to miss communication, Koda decided to flee. He jolted passed me straight through the ground of workers sending one of them crashing onto the ground and possibly braking his leg and bruising the others. This experience came to show how easily and quickly things can go wrong while working with horses.

In the end Beau and I had finally found ourselves in the back of the vandi with a tense and sedated horse tied into a corner of the vandi. We shared shifts of staying awake; comforting Koda or cuddling up best as we could in the straw in attempts to catch a wink of sleep. When we finally got home the sun was still slumbering. We both agreed that I’d be the one to lead and handle Koda. We weren’t sure what he would do once he was free from his compartment and we were quite right to be cautious.

In the dark of night I did my best to prepare myself while Beau untied the poles. Any one who knows about horses, or physics for that matter, knows a horse will always win the battle of strength. Once Koda realized he wasn’t tied up anymore he began to let out his anxiety, he took a big leap off the edge of the vandi which was a meter off the ground and even with a rope halter and the long lead rope I was on the verge of control. Luckily Koda quickly realized I had a hold of his head, so to say. I took a few deep breathes, let my heartbeat slow, and yawned to release as much tension as I could (this also being equine gesture to of relaxation). I then lead him to his new stable to meet Majura. All the pieces in place, we sighed, relaxed and smiled in awe at our accomplishments as we eagerly viewed Majura and Koda greet each other for the first time.

Soon there after Beau began riding lessons with Sasha and we watched the horses grow accustomed to each other and the new environment. We enjoyed the shade from the hot India sun while the horses ecstatically prance around their new paddock, golden manes flowing in the breeze. Somewhere in my mind, a little bird was telling me, life is beautiful. But even after all of this excitement, what I’ve come to call our real adventures still hadn’t started.

A picture from one of our ‘real adventures’ taken spring of 2009.

Photo Courtesy: – Beau Bikker – Isa Stewart