Mayo’r Meirs mare

By Meir Dizengoff , 5/11/2009

I once had a lovely, charming horse. But tragedy struck, and she breathed her last. I loved this horse very much and was intensely saddened by her death. I am therefore choosing to erect in her memory a monument of sorts, by telling a bit of her life story.

I met her seven years ago in a village near Gaza. She was young and gentle, her legs slender, her neck tapered, her ears erect and her temperament emotional, jovial and noble. She was light of bearing and pace. Her gait was measured, her eyes bright and her gaze at once frightened and modest. I made her acquaintance for the first time at the home of the Bedouin Abed-Allah, chief of the Be'er Sheva clan, a friend of mine from the days of the war. When I asked her master about her, Abed-Allah told me she was from a breed of noble mares - according to her lineage charts, the Prophet Mohammed had ridden upon one of their ancestors. I told my friend Abed-Allah that I ardently desired this young mare, and asked him to sell her to me. The Bedouin chieftain replied, saying:

If you settle here with us, in tents like ours, I will give you my horse for free, without money. Ride her to the tent, for she knows the way north, south, east and west. But there is no price for which I would give this horse - which I love as a father loves a long-awaited daughter - to a man who would take her to the city. She was born and raised in the fields, under the canopy of the sky, in pure fresh air, and her hooves have always trod in either sand or clods of earth. She has always been completely free to run and amuse herself with other horses her age, and I have never fastened ropes to her legs or a bridle to her mouth - for she has always come back to her tent and to her master, to whom she is linked by bonds of love. She could not live in the city: There, the streets are paved with stone, the houses are too high, and there is no air to breathe or sun to warm her or give light. Were this mare to see the automobiles, she would stumble and fall and be run down by the cars. No, this mare will not go to the city, because all of us here hate the city and its din.

Sheikh Abed-Allah had two sons, named Youssef and Zaki, and they implored me to remain with them for a few days as a guest of the Bedouin. I acceded to their request and stayed for several days in the tent encampment. Each day the sheikh's sons and I would tour the Be'er Sheva desert, and I rode the horse of the head of the tribe. From one day to the next I grew more and more fond of her. In races and "fantasies," as they are called - celebrations that include dancing, music and horse competitions - that were held in my honor, this mare would beat all of the other horses, so I decided to call her by the name Maheera - the swift one.

During our outings, Abed-Allah's sons would tell me stories of miracles and wonders about pure-bred Arabian horses, their love and loyalty for their owners, and their talent for rescuing their riders in times of danger. One story told of an ancestor of Maheera, whose rider fell off him in the desert as he descended from a high mountain. The Bedouin apparently received a blow to the head and lost consciousness, and was unable to get up. The horse immediately ran at lightning speed to the tent and whinnied at high volume. The residents of the tent, noticing that the horse had returned alone, understood that a misfortune had befallen its rider, and together with the horse galloped to the site to which he led them, and saved the injured man.

These two young men, Youssef and Zaki, were among the more progressive of the Bedouin. They would frequently come to the city to see a silent film or stroll on the beach, but mainly they came for the Purim festivities. I asked them to speak to their father in the hope that he would sell me the horse, in these words: The three of us are part of the new generation, we cannot restrict our lives to the limits delineated by our fathers, members of the older generation. We have to move ahead, toward anything that is beautiful and progressive; we must not hate the city, because it is there that everything that is beneficial, pleasant and beautiful in life may be found: schools, hospitals, factories, moving pictures, theater and all the rest. Ask the old man to give me the horse and we will hold races and sports competitions in Tel Aviv, and you will come with your horses to take part in them.

The old man eventually consented to give me the horse, under these conditions:

1. The mare is intended solely for riding; it was forbidden to harness her to a wagon. Should anyone force a noble horse to pull a cart, the sheikh said, it is as if he were forcing the king's daughter to wash the floor.

2. She could be ridden only by her master and no one else; allowing others to ride her would force her to betray her master, and would spoil her temperament and her daily routine.

3. The mare's offspring were to be divided between the seller and buyer as follows: the males would belong to me; half of the females would belong to Sheikh Abed-Allah, and the other half to me.

4. She must not be ridden in noisy streets, for the bustle of the automobiles would drive her mad and confuse her paces.

I agreed to these conditions, signed a written commitment to uphold them, and Maheera became my horse. I brought her to Tel Aviv.

From the start, she was very frightened of the automobiles, especially the motorcycles. When she would come upon a noisy motorcycle, she would rear up on her hind legs and immediately step backward. I could soothe her only by patting her neck. Maheera slowly grew accustomed to the city's traffic. I upheld all the conditions to the letter, and she gave me much joy and pleasure on our excursions through the city and its environs.

Maheera grew so accustomed to my regular visits and rounds about the city that she knew the places I visited frequently and also knew the people I was in the habit of meeting. She would stand by herself at these places and meetings. For instance, it would happen that as I passed by the waterworks or the fire station, or when I came across the sanitation inspector or the municipal engineer as they were making their own rounds of the city, Maheera would suddenly halt, without any command or hint from me, and would remain standing for several minutes until I had finished what I had to say to these men.

In the morning, the stableman would bring me my mare, tying her to the fence outside my home, and she would wait there until I left my house, to ride on her. My daily meetings with her were always quite affable. She would present her neck, which I would stroke with my hand, looking into her bright eyes. I would then loosen the reins from around the fence and we would set out on our way.

Sometimes I would be late leaving the house in the morning. Then Maheera would lose patience and grow irate, stamping her feet on the ground and whinnying out of sheer anger. Usually I would be able to soothe her with my stroking, and everything would be resolved amicably. But once I was exceedingly late, and Maheera was so angry she reared up on her hind legs, tore the reins free and fled, bounding into the boulevard in front of my home. With great difficulty, the city's gardeners and policemen managed to snare her and put a new bridle on her head. When I found out what had happened, I went out to her and saw her shaking with anger. I did not ride her that day, and let her be. But from that day on I was careful not to leave the horse tied up alone for too long.

On Purim festivals, when I would ride the horse in front of the Adloyada procession in the midst of a reveling crowd and together with a group of other riders, I could sense that Maheera was aware of the importance of the occasion and of the revelry, and she behaved in a unique manner. She would not permit the horse of Mr. Avraham Shapira from Petah Tikva, who always rode alongside me, to move in front of her, and there was no force capable of stopping her from striding at the front of the procession. Her gait was not a normal gait, but rather that of an official gala performance, with sure and powerful paces, head held high, ears erect and nostrils flared. She would time her movements and steps to the rhythmic sounds of the band that marched in front of us, and you could feel how much she enjoyed taking part in the procession with the other horses. She was following all the commands, not because she was forced to, but out of her own good will and enthusiasm.

When I would return to the city after having been gone for a month or two, our first meeting was full of feelings of friendship and mutual affection. Maheera would extend her neck, neigh in a still, small voice, and look at me with eyes that expressed devotion. I would stroke and kiss her, for I was truly happy to meet this devoted friend and loyal companion once again. And in our first hour of riding following the long separation, Maheera would make an effort to tilt her head backward in order to look at me, as if saying: It was hard for me to be without you, please don't leave me again.

Children were very fond of Maheera, and many would wait in the street in the morning for me to pass by on horseback. Some of the children and young people would come to see Maheera while she was tied to the post near my house or by city hall.

On many occasions, as I was passing through the quiet streets, the children would start to run after the horse. Sometimes I would let one of them climb up and sit next to me, which was the cause of much joy among my little friends.

On a few occasions, I did violate the conditions to which I had committed, and it ended badly every time. Only in one exceptional case did it end well: there was a period during which I would lend Maheera to our cherished poet Chaim Nahman Bialik, and he would ride her as slowly as can be in the afternoons. It all ended peacefully, without any accidents. Once I was traveling in a car and came across Bialik riding. The mare did not see me, but Bialik said to her: "Halt, for your master is before you." Maheera turned her gaze to me, and immediately stopped in her tracks. Maheera was smart, but nevertheless she did not understand the honor that had fallen to her, to bear on her back the knight of Hebrew poetry.

But there were other times when it did not end well at all. Once, I came to city hall on horseback, as usual, and a tall, dark-eyed boy of 12 or so was standing by the steps. He was animated and adorable. It was my neighbor's son Zvi, who loved to watch me as I rode. We were great friends. He respected me because of my horse, and he loved Maheera with all his heart. Zvi watched me and Maheera with pleading eyes and longing and couldn't help but say, "Could I ride her for a minute?"

I couldn't help myself either, and I stroked the boy's red cheeks. I forgot my pledge not to allow anyone else to ride Maheera, and told the child: Get up here and ride, and be careful! But when Zvi mounted Maheera, she immediately sensed that a strange rider was sitting on her back. She began galloping and jumping, and made her way to Allenby Street, where she burst in among the automobiles and motorcycles. This sent her into a panic and she threw Zvi to the ground, whereupon she made her way back to city hall, to the spot where I hitched her to the fence. The boy suffered critical injuries, and only through the efforts of specialists was he able to recover.

Once I went with her to a horse race. When Maheera saw the other horses running, galloping and competing, she thought that she, too, would break into the racecourse and couldn't stand quietly in her place, tied by a rope. When I saw that the mare was getting more and more agitated and nervous, I gave her to one of my friends, who implored me to give her to him for a run. All of us were sure that Maheera would come in first and arrive at the judges' stand before all the other horses, for my horse was known among the riders as one of the fastest and lightest of all. But she actually came in third, and that was because of the strange rider, who did not know her habits or her temperament, nor did she know the nature of this master.

On a third occasion, an even more saddening occurrence took place, one that was the cause of her early death. One morning, I was riding on Allenby Street near the sidewalk when Maheera saw a cluster of telephone cables that workers were laying in the ground. She was greatly alarmed, reared up on her two hind legs and moved backward. At that very moment a bus of the Hama'avir bus company sprang up from behind us and hit her forcefully on the rear. Both of us were greatly alarmed; I immediately jumped off the horse's back and saw her shaking all over from the great shock.

On that day, Maheera fell ill, was unable to eat properly, and after three weeks she died, although veterinarians were rushed in. The stable-boy also treated her, giving a variety of medicinal treatments practiced among the Arabs in cases such as this, and while I was visiting her in her stable for the last time, I promised her that she would recover - but nothing could save her from death. Sheikh Abed-Allah was right when he told me that a stranger should never be allowed to ride the horse and that she must not be ridden in bustling streets.

I was greatly saddened by the death of this friend, and I cannot find comfort in other horses. I tried to ride other horses after Maheera's death, and I could not, because I did not find in them the nobility of her trotting, nor her ease of movement nor the beauty of her physique. I decided, then, to go to the Be'er Sheva desert and look among the Bedouin for another mare, a descendant of the noble horses of the Arab tradition.

Iyar 5694 (June 1934)
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