It's Halloween, so by rights it should be something spooky, but today feels like a short story day. Growing up I inherited a bunch of books my mother'd had growing up. One of them was a book titled something along the lines of Favorite Horse Stories. It was tattered, brittle with acidic paper, and the cover was brilliant yellow.
I don't remember all of the stories well, although there were some good ones in there, but one of them stuck with me, and I finally went out and hunted it down in another compilation. You may recognize the author from such stories as the Jungle Book and Kim. For my money, though, this is one of his best.
"The Maltese Cat" in Kipling on Horses and Horsemen by Rudyard Kipling
They had good reason to be proud, and better reason to be afraid, all twelve of them; for though they had fought their way, game by game, up the teams entered for the polo tournament, they were meeting the Archangels that afternoon in the final match; and the Archangels men were playing with half a dozen ponies apiece....
Polo in Virginia, originally uploaded by SkipSteuart.
Kipling's plucky group of ponies catch me up in the excitement, time and again. Captained by the Maltese Cat they scramble back and forth across an Indian polo field in a desperate attempt to claim the the championship against the much pricier horses fielded by their British opponentsThe Maltese Cat has been reprinted in multiple different compilations, so tracking down a copy shouldn't be too difficult, and it's definitely worth the effort.
The horses "speak" throughout the story, as do the humans, but not in a Disney-esque way. The Cat, and all the horses, Benami over at the knees and stubbornly silent, Who's Who, with his clumsy behind, and Faiz-Ullah, the Arab who won't run - they all ring true. Kipling's descriptions put you right there in the dust, mud, sweat and heat of it all.
As a child growing up in the UP of Michigan, I'd never seen a game of polo. I was vaguely familiar with it - I'd seen pictures in my horse encyclopedia. But other than the vague knowledge that it involved chasing around on horseback with a mallet after a ball, I was perfectly clueless. I've still never seen a real game - but someday! It's on my list.