“I want you to go over to the back of the property and bring Flicker home.”
I looked at my Father uncertainly. The word Flicker bought back memories I’d have preferred to keep as just memories. Flicker knew by instinct that I was a city kid transported by circumstances into farm life and he treated me with appropriate distain.
I remembered my frustration when climbing onto his back many times and going through the horse start up routine. Flicker’s flesh would give that certain quiver. Whether it was a signal that said, “Watch it there,” or whether it was thrilling anticipation of the torture he was going to put me through I’m not sure, but it always followed the same pattern.
Flicker would toss his head and pull back on the reigns settling in to munch on a tender shoot. That horse was strong and his will was magnificent. He was the Raja of the farm and would only give his nod of acceptance to my father who was the Maharaja. With great difficulty I would manipulate him under a tree where the tender grass shoots were appealing and reaching up stealthily would break off a branch to act as a gas pedal.
The first time I used a switch on his flank Flicker’s head jerked up and turned around to access the situation. Then he took off like a bolt of lightning with me fighting to bring him in line with the direction I needed to go. One of my initial mistakes was to reach the destination and have to dismount to fulfil my appointed farm chore. At least I had the sense to tie the reigns to something substantial for he was strong enough to break loose and take off with the offending item jumping along at his side. The discomfort would eventually bring him to a stop and the next stage of the game would begin. I’d put my foot in the saddle to climb aboard that lofty beast and he’d take two steps forward while I hopped along beside on one leg. I eventually worked out how to leap on board at lightning speed and Flicker would sulk along at snail’s pace looking for lantana bushland to shred me on thorns as he galloped through.
Thoughts of past misery came to mind as I listened to my Father’s instruction.
I took the reins and headed downhill, it would have to be a bareback ride and that meant a nearby fence to climb on. We lived on the first of three substantial hills on that property. To a small boy they looked like mountains and took a lot of energy to climb them in a straight line so at the bottom of the hill I entered the farm road which led to the right past a mango grove and swung around left to make a diagonal accent to the top of the next hill which was covered with macadamia and mango trees. That hill was a favourite playground in crop season. During drought seasons we’d poke stones over with a long stick to see how many snake hatchlings lurked there. That was a practice which was less than intelligent from hindsight.
Above me as I traversed the first hill road was the flying fox. It was a strong steel wire that went from each hill top to the homestead where crops were processed. My Father rode that wire down once to the horror of Mother who watched his antics from the safety of home. There was another from the third hill where a huge banana plantation had flourished before a disease decimated the trees way before our time there. That plantation was now guarded by a widespread growth of lantana bushes whose razor sharp branches would tear your clothes and skin as you attempted to make a path through. I had fought my way through that hazard once to inspect the plantation and discovered there was still fruit that was fit to be eaten, but no one would think of attempting to market those bananas now and they were technically in quarantine.
I was thankful I’d not attempted to bring a saddle. That would be an impossible burden for a small boy over hilly terrain. But I knew convincing Flicker to wear those reins after being fancy free for a time would be an almost impossible task.
I was now at the top of the second hill and opening the gate into the valley beyond and the banana plantation hill in the distance. The back of our property sloped away to another arterial farm community road from that hill. It was in the second valley that cows not in milking season resided with the brown bull my father had chased with an axe after it had gored one of his prize milking cows when they were going through the cattle tick spraying fenced corridor. That bull had a healthy regard for my Father and made sure it retired into the lantana growth whenever Father appeared in the valley by horse or tractor. But I was terrified of that bull and not sure it was as terrified of me. I felt very alone and vulnerable as I made my way down the farm road into the valley below.
It was not hard to find Flicker. That horse stood tall as his dark chocolate brown body contrasted with the greenery of the valley. He watched me warily as I approached slowly with the reins. Our eyes met and I could see the steely resolve in those brown eyes. For the next hour I tried time after time to attach those reins, only to be rebuffed with a shake of the head and a defiant munch of grass before raising his head to stare at me again and offer another rebuff.
Now it became a matter of prestige. It would be unthinkable for me to trudge all that way home again with reins and no Flicker admitting defeat to my Father. I could imagine his sigh as he looked at his son and added yet another task to his already wearing program on the farm. So I kept at it in spite of continuous rebuffs and an occasional walk away.
Then at my wits end I grasped him by the mane and looked into his eye. He was big enough to play the game with me all day and even do me harm if he wanted to, but at that moment Flicker must have detected a look of desperation in my eyes and considered my small stature. I slid the reins up his nose again and this time he opened his mouth holding my gaze and the reins slid into place.
Flicker stood still as I mounted and allowed me to guide him on the way home. At the top of the hill I dismounted to open the gate separating the valleys and he stood nonchalantly waiting for me to complete my task. I mounted and we rode down the winding track headed for home. There was no compulsion, no switch to the flank, we were in harmony and it was apparent both of us wanted to be home.
After that experience Flicker accepted me as one of the farming family, a fraternity of men and animals that know and understood each other’s personalities and oddities, and accepted these without reservation.
“© Copyright Ian Grice 2015, All rights reserved”