I’m reeling from the idea that before polo players started braiding horses’ hair, they amputated the tail near the base and all that remained was a stump.
“You think that’s bad?” the player says. “To compel obedience, riders attach a small spiked wheel at the end of the spur called a rowel, which digs into the animal’s undersides, causing excruciating pain and bloody gushes from being rowelled too hard.”
I give him an astonished look. He looks at me warily. “Before I continue, tell me the truth. Are you here to write about polo or to see him?” he asks, nodding towards the pitch.
“Let’s put it this way. Anything you tell me is off the record,” I respond. I’m not willing to blow my cover story and I’m not willing to admit to my romantic intentions, either.
He is satisfied with my answer and continues. “This is a very pretentious sport, especially for new money who feel they have something to prove to the world. Golf used to be elitist but these days every Tom, Dick and Harry plays it. This (he gestures to the field with his hand) is the new ‘in-thing’ to differentiate between the social classes.”
He pauses then continues. “But it costs money. A lot of money. You can’t bullshit your way through polo, but some try. Some players do something called blood doping. It involves giving a horse a blood transfusion. Blood is taken earlier from the horse and stored. After a chukka, the horse is cooled down and re-injected with its blood before returning to the game.”
“But why?” I ask.
He shrugs. “It’s an expensive sport. Not everyone can afford a string of ponies. Those that have fewer make due how they can. The blood transfusion is supposed to be an energy boost. I’ve seen the heart of a horse literally rapture from exertion.”
There is silence between us as I take this all in. My heart is breaking as I look at the horses with new eyes. How many of them are suffering right now as I cheer every goal?
“Why do they call this game the Sport for Kings?” I ask. “It’s one of the most dangerous sports for the rider and the mount, and whereas the rider elects to play, the horse clearly has no choice.”
“Strictly speaking, the rules of polo that have been set forth and that most players follow, don’t allow such practices. But as I said, some people have been known to cut corners.”
“Where? Here? In Nairobi? Or elsewhere?” I ask, probing.
“So inquisitive….” He responds. “I’ve said enough.”
“You can’t leave me hanging. I said this is off the record!” I protest.
He gets onto his feet. “Your man is doing very well today. Perhaps you should ask to see his ponies when he’s done.”
With that he walks off without a backward glance. Wow. Has he just accused the Prude of carrying out heinous acts against his horses? It can’t be true. He speaks about those animals more lovingly than he talks about his kids.
I will get to the bottom of this! If it’s true, not only will I take him for the Sh2 million pregnancy scam but I will also do an expose on him for all his society friends to lap up. What gives rich people the right to trample on the rights of others? Yes, horses have rights, too. You can’t wear all your finery when all you are is a cold-hearted bastard who embraces animal cruelty to save a shilling or two. No way. Not on my watch.