Felipe grew up around stables, where his father trained horses for more than 25 years. But Felipe’s dad was never considered a success, perhaps because of the names he chose for his thoroughbreds. (“Laggin’ Behind,” “Trottin Too Much,” and “Too Lazy To Run” were just a few of his brainchildren.) Even though the horses more than lived up to their names, the stables were not well-known, and the elder Felipe yearned to be taken seriously in the racing world. He longed to be a somebody who merits mint julips at the happy-hour price, any time, day or night.
His son would be his ticket to fame, he believed. He would be groomed to be a jockey. A great. Big. Little. Jockey.
The elder Felipe had a special relationship with his son, because he had raised the boy all alone after his wife was killed in a freak incident years earlier. The wife had walked in on her husband as he was lip-locked with one of his prized fillies. According to the elder Felipe, this was all a misunderstanding. Man and beast were simply sharing a carrot—getting their antioxidants in, if you will. But when the wife confronted the filly, an argument ensued. The mamacita fired off a tamale missile at the home-wrecking horse, which struck the animal in the nose. Ultimately, the filly got the last whinny, however, as the woman was later found in a heap, with a huge hoof mark stamped on her forehead. The horse was put out to pasture, while the wife was buried in a pasture, after a brief eulogy by the local pastor.
Little Felipe’s love for horses developed early. As soon as the boy could walk, his father crafted a wooden horse’s head and stuck it on a broomstick. Both he and the child would run around the barn with the contraption between their legs, each making galloping noises. Afraid that his boy would grow too tall to be a jockey, the father got the child hooked on cigarettes at the ripe age of three, in hopes of stunting his growth. By eight, the boy was up to three packs a day, and had stopped growing completely, which pleased his father to no end.
“You done good, mijo,” he’d say. And Felipe would just smile, flashing his yellow-stained teeth, trying to suppress an emphysemic cough.
Over time, it was obvious that the boy’s destiny was to become a jockey. Each night, he would watch television from the back of the couch, his butt reared in the air. Every so often he’d slap the cushion and yell, “Hi-ya! Home stretch!” His favorite show, of course, was Mister Ed, starring a palomino horse who could talk; and, it wasn’t unusual to find the boy posing on the front yard, with a lantern in his hand, his jockey underwear giving him a bit of a wedgie.
On his tenth birthday, the boy’s father took the little munchkin out to the barn for a surprise. Standing in front of a new colt, his father said:
“Happy birthday, son.”
“A brand new horse!” Felipe exclaimed.
“No, the horse is mine. But this whip is for you,” Felipe’s father said, handing the whipping stick to the child.
The whip was not actually new. Felipe had kept it from his early S&M club days, always vowing to get back into that hobby when time permitted.
The boy loved the riding crop, even though the colt did not. From morning ‘til dusk, Felipe rode the colt through the meadows, racing the wind until the wind lost. Sometimes he would gallop so fast that he would literally break wind. Later, he would find a quiet place to lie down, stare at the clouds and daydream about winning the Triple Crown.
As the boy grew older, he began to feel inferior about his size. Kids at school teased him, calling him nasty names like Short Bread or Minnie Meat. Some even taunted him by leapfrogging over his head. It wasn’t long before the youngster developed a Napoleonic complex, attempting to lord over others to compensate for his small stature. He became a ruthless tiger, attacking anyone who mocked his size. One day, his English teacher asked:
“Do you know what a tall tale is?”
“It’s a story,” was Felipe’s reluctant reply.
“That’s the short answer, but I’m looking for a little more,” the teacher said.
Felipe sat quietly as his insecurity mounted. Was this old bag pushing him?
“What’s a tall tale? It isn’t a short story? You’re a tiny bit off,” the teacher said. “Come on now. No more small talk.”
Felipe jumped up and charged across the older woman’s desk, plowing her frail body into the chalkboard. Eventually, the alcoholic wood shop teacher came to her rescue, and peeled the boy off the battered, shell-shocked woman. Staggering a bit, the teacher carried the pint-size punk out of the classroom, holding him by the seat of his pants, the child’s legs flailing as he yelled, “I’m a big boy!”
Soon after that incident, young Felipe dropped out of school to concentrate on his goal of becoming a jockey. As a jockey, he would not be judged, he believed. Size mattered, of course, only not in the way it usually does.
Every morning the budding jockey raced around the track, beating his time from the previous day. Finally, after a year, his father said, “Your times are fantastic, now let’s try them on a horse.” Felipe cheered, because his feet were killing him—he was tired of husking his own corns.
When he turned 16, Felipe received a racehorse from his dad, who spent his life’s savings on the purchase. As his father picked glue out of the horse’s mane, the boy asked where his father had scored the prized animal. “Walmart,” his father said, patting the boy on the head. He didn’t have the guts to tell his son that the equine was an old Amish get-about, used to transport peanut-butter pies to roadside stands.
From the beginning, the fledgling jockey and the half-ass thoroughbred were incompatible. Felipe would feed him sugar cubes only to have them spit back in his face.
“You wanna piece of me?” the jockey would sneer as he got near the horse’s snout.
The ornery animal would rock up on his hind legs, releasing a disgruntled “neigh.” And every time Felipe climbed up on the horse’s back to ride him, the animal would toss him to the ground, and then stand on the little jockey’s backside as if to say, “I’m king of the mountain now.”
One day, the pair embarked on a trot through the country, and the jockey attempted to get the horse to gallop. Unfortunately the ratty animal wasn’t going for it. The horse felt it was a lazy Sunday. (Except it was actually a Tuesday.) Felipe kicked the horse. Nothing. He whipped the horse. Still nothing. Finally, he leaned over and whispered to the creature that there was a bumblebee on his ass. The horse darted off like a spooked cat. The jockey had never felt such exhilaration. The wind whipped through his hair as if Felipe had just eaten a York Peppermint Patty. Suddenly, the horse stopped on a dime, causing the tiny young man to fly off its back and land face first in a steamy mound of manure.
In a fit of rage, the jockey leaped to his feet, squaring off with the cantankerous animal. “What’s up with that?” the boy asked.
The horse rocked his head back and snickered as it flashed its big pearly teeth, which really set the little guy off. Felipe felt he was being dissed by the horse, so he slapped the bit out the beast’s mouth. The two were now nose to nose, staring one another down.
“Pig,” the jockey snapped, just before the horse snorted and then pushed the jockey back with his muzzle, knocking him on his itty-bitty keister. Felipe stood up, his tiny chest heaving. He grabbed the hairy monster by the ears, wrapping his little legs around its neck. The horse didn’t appreciate the intimacy. In fact, a feeling of claustrophobia washed over him, and he darted off, sporting a jockey necktie.
The bumpy ride caused the jockey to lose his grip on the horse’s ears, but luckily his ankles were locked around the animal’s nape. The only hitch was that now his head was dragging against the ground.
“Whoa, boy!” the little guy screamed as grass clumped in his hair. The frazzled horse continued to rip through the forest, dash over the rocks, leap over the logs and splash through the muddy stream, as the boy’s head—ba-dump, ba-dump-dump— took quite a battering. The rampage finally ended at a stream, where the horse stopped for a little liquid refreshment. Felipe fell into the river and was swiftly carried downstream, tossed wildly, to and fro, through the rushing rapids.
Find out what happened to Felipe and the ratty horse in Part II of “The Jockey”
by Jeff Charlebois
“Ham on a Roll”