Header Ads

Batangas and its Reputation for Fine Horses

Image source: Allfreedownload.com.
Image source: Allfreedownload.com.
Back in 1969, when I was a Grade 5 student at De la Salle in Lipa, the Principal, one Brother Rafael Donato, presided over a meeting of teaching personnel and student officers to call for a vote on changing the name of the school yearbook from Sabre to Stallion. He was a charismatic personality; the proposal was passed unanimously.

Decades later when I was already in administration of the same school and reported directly to him, I asked him about the logic behind this change. “What impressed me the most about Batangas back in the sixties,” he explained, “was its fine horses!” He loved to draw guffaws from visitors with his cliché-ic line, “Batangas is known for fast horses… and even faster women!”

Nobody ever won an argument with him, so I simply nodded my head and moved on. I never believed him. For one, he was Ilocano, so what did he know about Batangas? I was Batangas-born and raised; and yes, I am old enough to remember when there were horse-drawn calesas plying the narrow streets of Lipa City rather than the now ubiquitous tricycles.

As far as fine horses were concerned, though, while it was not uncommon to see horses in their trailers likely bound for San Lazaro or Santa Ana, it was not as though Batangas was Marlboro Country with cowboys in striped long-sleeved shirts and Stetson hats riding in the wind atop their sleek stallions.

I am belatedly discovering, however, that the good Brother might have had a point; albeit the reputation might have been earned much, much earlier than the late sixties when he was first assigned to the De la Salle-owned school in Lipa.

In fact, as early as the late 19th century, the historian Manuel Sastron in his book1 about Batangas Province and its pueblos or towns wrote about how the wealthy families of Villa de Lipa loved to hold horse races, especially when receiving special guests. The owners of these horses, Sastron wrote, boasted Arab and Australian breeds which he felt were superior to horses he had seen in the capital city of Manila.

A 1914 book2 written by William D. Boyce had more to say about the horses not just in Lipa but Batangas as a whole. He wrote that Batangas “enjoys the distinction of being where the fine horses come from.” Apparently, Boyce continued, the Spaniards were enticed by the vast tracts of grazing land “and stocked the fields with the best breeds.”

The Americans also had something to do with the reputation. While the Philippine-American War raged in Batangas at the dawn of the 20th century, General J. Franklin Bell was sent to Batangas “to pacify” the province. This was euphemism for ending the guerrilla warfare being waged by General Miguel Malvar’s army.

Presumably for use by United States Army officers, Bell imported “fine Arabian strains” and “hardy animals” from Australia into Batangas. This importation, thus, occurred between 1901 when Bell was first assigned to Batangas and April of 1902 when Malvar formally surrendered to the Americans.

These fine horses must have been bred in numbers that they went for cheaper prices than those sold in Manila just before Boyce published his book in 1914. He wrote than in the capital, before automobiles became popular a team of matched horses (at least a pair of horses used to draw or pull carriages, wagons or carts3) went for as much as $1,000 or ₱2,000 (about $25,288.50 or ₱1,315,002 by October 2018).

A “Batangas matched team,” Boyce wrote, “can be bought for a low figure.” As mentioned, the lower prices had nothing to do with the quality of the horses but more as a consequence of supply and demand. In his 1903 book, Samuel MacClintock wrote, “Many horses are raised in this province, the Batangas horses being famous for their large size4.”

In fact, in a geographical publication5 of the United States Bureau of Insular Affairs, it was claimed that Batangas horses were “the most famous all over the archipelago.” This was so because many of Batangas’ inhabitants were “engaged in pastoral pursuits,” i.e. the raising of livestock. The same publication estimated that there were about 146,576 heads of livestock in the province, of which a good number must have been horses.

So there! The good Brother was right, after all! Batangas did indeed enjoy a reputation for fine horses. For the record, the school’s yearbook continues to be called the Stallion; and its varsity teams rechristened with the moniker Green Stallions. And yes, maybe at some time long before I was born, Batangas was, perhaps, really not unlike Marlboro Country.

Notes and references:
1Pequeños Estudios, Batangas y Su Provincia,” by Manuel Sastron, published 1895.
2The Philippine Islands,” by William D. Boyce, published 1914 in the United States.
3Driving (horse),” Wikipedia.
4The Philippines : a Gographical Reader,” by Samuel MacClintock, published 1903 in the United States.
5A Pronouncing Gazetteer and Geographical Dictionary of the Philippine Islands, United States of America,” published 1902 by the United States Bureau of Insular Affairs.