He was the perfect little Berber-Arab stallion, all shimmering muscle and proud carriage. The fact that he was a silky- smooth silver roan was a plus, as was his name, The Successful One in Hausa. Positive omens all round!!
We tried him out at the Jos racecourse. A number of grooms had to hold him for my husband to get on, but that was ok – normal really out at the racecourse. He was bouncy and difficult to ride but “no problem – training ke nan” (training'll do it) said the owner, Alhaji Tabati. And of course we knew ALL about that! Sure, get him home and start in on the training. He'll quieten. Right?
So, my husband settled into the long bargaining ritual, each party knowing exactly where the other would give way. Sitting on the roof of the clubhouse in the early evening light, a soft cooling breeze, the perfume from Alhaji's gown mingling with a thousand summer scents. The atmosphere was magical, soft murmurings between the men and finally the handshake - deal done, horse on its way to us.
There he was the next afternoon, in the stable twitching and shaking, up against the stable wall. Dahiru, our groom, looked at me, raised one eyebrow “Hmmm de zafi, Madame” he said. "Hot!"
My husband came to inspect. “He's a bit smaller than I thought” he murmured “so I expect you should ride him,”Really? Yeees! You bet!"
So to the training.
Kaduna Polo Club was always special in the early morning, before the sun gained full strength and burned off any dew there might have been on the grass. The training field and riding school empty, I met Dahiru at the field at 6:30am. He'd gently manoeuvered Mai Nasera from our house, through the crazy early morning traffic, wobbly bikes, noisy kids on their way to school, women setting up shop road-side. Mai Nasera was pretty shaken and it was impossible for me to mount, but Dahiru had a plan. Dahiru always had a plan! I would mount carefully nearside as he slipped off off-side. It worked. Once I was on, Mai Nasera was a dream and I worked with him steadily for a few weeks.
All was good, until a friend arrived one morning, parking his car in the carpark and giving me a wave. I wanted to wave back, rose slightly in the saddle, loosened my hold, and Mai Nasera was back in all his racing glory...taking off over the field, out through a gap in the fence and pounding around the racecourse that surrounded the polo fields. Terror, panic, total loss of cool...until I could feel him tire as we headed into our second round. I urged him on. The friend, now on a horse, blocked us off.
After this, it took another friend to get me back really working Mai Nasera. “Let him go”, he said. “Trust me”, he said. “I'm here”. Now, I did realise he couldn't help much, but Aussie Cameron just oozed confidence and calm. So I got on, let him go, and when Cameron shouted “pull up”, I did, and so did Mai Nasera! We'd cracked it.
We became a super polo pair but remained a bit of a party trick for the Nigerian polo scene. Commentators would call to the crowd to look over at the pony lines where “Mrs Kiesel, only woman polo player, tries to get on her pony”. As always, the slide on-hop off routine with two other guys holding the horse down. Always a cause for thigh-slapping laughter!
I did try some serious bonding with Mai Nasera. I spent ages sitting in his stable but he remained flat against the wall, eyeing me with horror. He never took food from my hand and almost kicked me to death when I tried to remove his head collar at the pony lines. A group of grooms pulled me to safety. (Thanks again Adamu, Dahiru and co!). We just decided he didn't like women. But as I said, once on him he was my perfect polo pony. Fast, brave and agile, this tiny guy would ride off ponies twice his size and ENJOY it!
We eventually retired Mai Nasera out at Dawale Baba's farm just beyond Maraban Jos, and all was good until one day the daughter of an American Diplomat was invited to ride. Of all the horses she could have chosen to ride, she chose, you guessed it, Mai Nasera.
I don't think she went out to the farm again. Sorry, Dawale!