The Maltese Cat by Rudyard Kipling

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An Argentinian ancestor of the Cat?

Those of you who read my other blog,  (https://annarashbrook.wordpress.com ) will know that we recently enjoyed a day watching Ice Polo at Turrach Höhe lake – none of the horses fell through! It had me thinking about how the horses were played and if they were happy.  This led me to look for a childhood story, which I used to have with illustrations by Lionel Edwards – in my view one of the greatest horse painters of all time. The book is probably worth a small fortune but went years ago!

The hunt for this book ended up with me buying a copy of his entire works (the story is free below) and of course it’s another tale set around the time of the First World War in India. It’s a simple story with the horses beautifully personnified, with the ultimate hero being the grey polo pony, The Maltese Cat. He is master supreme of tactics in the great game.  It’s a lovely story of the underdog winning, but what had me amazed through my modern perception was the brutality of the game.  Horses were barging each other left right and centre, knocking each other flying, getting blows to their legs, and the game ends up with the most enormous bundle with broken goal posts, riders and horses.  Now I’ve never watched grass Polo, so I cannot judge.  Yet I imagine that horses wouldn’t be so ridden today.  The story is perhaps born of the same ideology that my mother used to have, that racing horses continued to race because they loved the game, rather than as now, we would see it as also part of the flight instinct.  Maybe the truth is somewhere in the middle, certainly horses do enjoy their work, see their excited reaction when they hear the hunting horn or not, watch a horse being bullied into doing dressage that doesn’t want to be an equine athlete. I would like to think that horses are intelligent enough to enjoy their game and work, and that the ponies I saw at Turrach were having a ball.  However, for conjuring up the English playing Polo at the turn of the last century, the heat, dust and people, this story is brilliant. I’m going to read more of Kipling’s less well known works that echo life at that time.

There’s a load more information on

http://www.kipling.org.uk/rg_maltesecat1.htm

And the story is free on

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/k/kipling/rudyard/days/chapter9.html

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