The Horse and the Cow

Thomas Linford - Brazil


December 9, 2010

My family loves talking fast. They also love playfully shouting at each other at the top of their lungs. And then there’s me, frantically trying to figure out what my family says as they rapidly yell at me while smiling and laughing.

Fortunately, I was able to put these troublesome problems to the side one morning, when I had figured out what I needed to wear in order to go working with my host father to tend the bulls on horseback. Quite pleased with myself, I put on khakis, a long sleeved tan shirt, a hat, and tan Polo shoes. So pleased in fact, that I was able to ignore my brother’s raised eyebrow as he sat there in real workers clothes (denim and boots), staring at my Polo shoes.

My confidence waned as I approached the horse. It’s been about five years since I last rode a horse. By my host father’s instructions, I mounted the horse, and then managed to completely forget everything I once knew about horses. What was I supposed to say to get the horse to start moving? Bora, Portuguese slang for “let’s go,” or was I supposed to pull back on the reins to start moving…no that would pull the horse’s head back…I had to spank it or something. And then right on cue, my host father handed me a stick with a loop at the end where my hand was supposed to go.

He then went ahead and mounted his horse and started moving without hitting the horse or saying anything. I was still uncomfortably moving around in my seat trying to think of those few lessons years back that would explain everything when all of the sudden, the horse started moving. He turned his head and gave me a look that said, “Silly amateur horse rider doesn’t know what he’s doing” and proceeded to follow my host father through the gap in the fence.

I had forgotten how uncomfortable horseback riding was. As my right thigh was getting sore, I became determined to make conversation with my host father. My host father is an older guy, seventy-three years old, without teeth, and many lines from his eyes suggesting a happy life so far. I asked him about what the different trees were called, whether the land was owned by the community we’re living in, and so on. I have trouble understanding when people speak Portuguese, so I’ve gotten a tendency to repeat anything someone says to me.

The rest of the day passed without me doing much. As I barely knew how to ride a horse, there would be no way I could lasso and do other cowboy-ish things at the same time with my host father. So I rode around my horse as my host father and uncle repaired a fence, rounded up some cattle and horses, and gave a shot to a sick calf.

That day reminds me of a very key point: I am here to learn, not to impose values. Everyone here understands the animals and the land more than me. My goal, clearly, is to lasso something by the end of my stay here.

Thomas Linford