The horses of Alexander, Napoleon, Genghis Khan & Mulan
WILL SOON FLOURISH - Wilson Lee Flores (Pang-masa) - February 2, 2014 - 12:00am

A man on a horse is spiritually as well as physically bigger than a man on foot. — John Steinbeck

I love and admire horses as inspiring, magnificent creatures. Yes, like the conqueror Genghis Khan, Rembrandt, the cousins US presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt, world’s richest investor Warren Buffett, Asian superstar Jackie Chan, James Dean, Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford, Barbra Streisand, Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, Salma Hayek, John Cusack, Cindy Crawford, Kobe Bryant, James Franco, Ashton Kutcher, Kristen Stewart, Kim Chiu and Mateo Guidicelli, I was also born in the auspicious Chinese zodiac year of the horse. 

Although I’m not a tycoon, I’ve been collecting horses for years — not live ones in stables or the polo club, but simple yet beautiful horse figurines or carvings I buy from travels worldwide.

Let us be energetic, hardworking, fast and cheerful like the horse. Let us gallop into this New Year of the Horse with positive attitude, vigor and zest for life!

It seems almost all nations of diverse cultures universally like the horse, that’s why I’m always able to buy as souvenirs of various horses—usually affordable carvings or moldings in wood, metal, brass, stone, clay, simple plastic, or occasionally pricier jadeite and porcelain versions from China, onyx from the Middle East, and a costly pewter horse head from Selangor state of Malaysia.

Among my favorite subjects for paintings is also the horse, such as a wonderful oil painting on canvas I purchased in 2009 entitled “Champ” by Ronald Ventura, which has an image of a boxer with a horse’s head and with a championship belt around his waist.

My admiration for horses is not unique.  In a 2004 survey by TV program Animal Planet, more than 50,000 viewers from 73 countries voted the horse as the world’s fourth favorite animal.

Let me share tales of some of leaders I admire in world history and their unique horses:

1. Alexander the Great — This Macedonian/Greek empire-builder had a horse named Bucephalus, which meant “Oxhead,” one which he had personally tamed when he was only age 12 after other older men had failed. This courageous horse reputedly had “a battering ram of a head, with a diminutive (his true height remains a subject of debate)” as it brought the young conqueror bowling his enemies over in the middle of dust and blood battlefields. This amazing horse died and was buried in June 326 BC in an area now part of modern-day Pakistan. Alexander even founded a city named in honor of his horse.

2. Julius Caesar — Centuries after the era of Alexander and his unique three-toed horse, Julius Caesar followed this myth by looking for his own rare  three-toed horse, which he used as his war horse. Ronan McDonnell wrote: “They (the horses of Alexander and Julius Caesar) were chosen simply to show how unique their riders were, as tangible, physical symbols that could be woven into their legacy while simultaneously pointing toward their destiny.”

3. Genghis Khan — The Mongolian leader and founder of China’s Yuan Dynasty once said: “It is easy to conquer the world from the back of a horse.” Genghis Khan and his warriors rode small and short-legged yet hardy Mongolian horses which could survive coldest weathers and minimum foods. The Two White Horses of Genghis Khan is a Mongolian epic in alliterative verse, with a number of different versions. It is one of the oldest Mongolian literary works and supposedly hails from the 13th/14th century. The epic deals with two white horses owned by Genghis Khan.

4. Han Dynasty founding Emperor Liu Bei — His personal horse was named Dilu.

5. Hua Mulan — This real-life ancient Chinese heroine has been immortalized in a Walt Disney animated film entitled Mulan and her war horse there was named Khan. She disguised herself as a man in order to take the place of her old father to fight in war, due to her filial devotion. After winning many battles, and declining the Emperor’s offer of a high office as a reward for her outstanding service, she accepted a fine horse instead as reward.

6. General Cao Cao (pronounced “Zhao Zhao”) — This military genius, cunning warlord, martial arts expert and poet of the Three Kingdoms era had a horse named Shadowless. 

7. King Arthur — His horse was named Llamrei. Near to Llyn Barfog in Wales of the United Kingdom is a hoof print etched onto a rock called “Carn March Arthur” or “Stone of Arthur’s Horse,” supposedly made by this horse of the legendary King Arthur.

8. El Cid — Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, the national hero of Spain, had a horse named Babieca. The Moors called this Castillian nobleman and warrior as “El Cid” or “the Lord.”

9. Napoleon Bonaparte — This French leader had a horse named Marengo, wounded eight times in his illustrious career as gutsy war horse, and captured by the British and later outlived its master by eight years. His skeleton was preserved and now still on display at the National Army Museum in Chelsea, London.

10. Peter the Great — This Russian leader had a horse named Lisette.

11. Simon Bolivar — The horse of this South American hero and liberator of several countries was named Palomo.

12. General Robert E. Lee — America’s Confederate or southern military leader of the Civil War, he had a horse named Traveller. Lee said,  “Traveller is my only companion, I may also say my pleasure. He and I whenever practical, wander out in the mountains and enjoy sweet confidences.” 

General Lee once described Traveller in a letter to his wife’s cousin: “If I was an artist like you, I would draw a true picture of Traveller; representing his fine proportions, muscular figure, deep chest, short back, strong haunches, flat legs, small head, broad forehead, delicate ears, quick eye, small feet, and black mane and tail. Such a picture would inspire a poet whose genius could then depict his worth, and describe his endurance of toil, hunger, thirst, heat and cold; and the dangers and suffering through which he has passed.”

The horse died a year after the demise of his master, both are buried a few feet of each other at the campus chapel of the Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, USA.

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Last, but not the least, I couldn’t shake off the image I once saw in a book on America’s physically immense and successful Governor General William H. Taft in the early 20th century riding not only a horse, but also a carabao, in the new US colony of the Philippines.

A future Chief Justice and President of the United States, Taft was often the butt of jibes about his weight. While governing the Philippines, Taft once sent a telegram to Washington, DC,  which read: “Went on a horse ride today; feeling good.” U.S. Secretary of War Elihu Root reportedly replied with humor: “How’s the horse?”

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