I was blessed to spend quality time alone with Lolo when he would pick me up at the break of dawn for our morning drives to check on the horses. We did it so often that after a while, I had memorised the horses in each paddock and was able to talk about their bloodlines with him. He would always ask me which was my favourite and why; then he would tell me his and give me his reasons as well. Sometimes we would even have friendly bets on which horse would turn out better on the racetrack.
It was through those mornings with him that my “eye for a horse” developed and I was subconsciously trained to look for certain features that gave horses an edge on the track. Later, I was able to apply that knowledge to my own horses as well as to the horses I helped source for friends.
When the time came that I needed a more talented horse, my grandparents and parents surprised me with Kayak Van Het Granvenhof (aka Fatty), who would change my life. But first, they made sure that no gifts would be handed out to any of us on a silver platter. We were given great horses, but they still needed training and maturing. They were safe and would hone our skills. They were talented, but tricky enough so that we had to do the right thing by them to get results. Fatty was my best horse, and perhaps soulmate. I remember being afraid of him because he was so big and tall, like a giraffe, when he arrived. He had all the talents but was still raw. He became the perfect horse for me to grow with; so we went through all the levels together—with blood, sweat and tears—to get to world-class competitions. When I would talk to Lolo, he would ask me about our progress and encourage me whenever my confidence faltered. My dad did the long days of training and competitions with me. All the way, he and my mum made just as much sacrifice—if not more, along with my siblings—as I did to get to where I wanted to go. The horses and my family’s constant support taught me another valuable lesson: In life, you get only as much as you put in.
My cousins and I achieved our dream together in the 2002 Asian Games. As usual, Lolo and Ta watched and supported us throughout the whole trip. I’ll never forget Lolo hugging me and telling me how proud he was of me that day when we brought home a silver medal for the Philippines. He knew the struggle I went through, yet let me be until the end so I could figure out how to make things work. He fed the fighter in me, and I appreciated him for always encouraging the good fight in us. That regional championship victory at the Asian Games was the first of many. The years following saw us win World Cup Qualifiers; qualify for the World Championships; win a SEA Games medal; and represent the Philippines and the Pacific League at the World Cup Final.
It wasn’t always all about the horses with Lolo though. Growing up, I have fond memories of us sitting with him at the round table in his playroom as he introduced us to eating crispy fish heads, trying a local delicacy of locusts with Ta, and educating our taste buds on some of the most bizarre flavour mixes out there—like patis (fish sauce) with santol (cotton fruit) and mangosteen, or hotdogs in a bun with ketchup and mayo and, of course, peanut butter with jelly.
When it came to my love life, Lolo did not meddle. In earlier days, he said I should tell people that he was my boyfriend to keep the boys away. Later, he stayed quiet and kept his distance until a suitor would warm up to him; but he was always protective. He only ever commented on my relationships twice; and only because he knew something that I did not. He did it very lovingly, however, taking me aside, reminding me that he never commented on my personal life, then said what he had to say. Gentle as he was, his few words of caution and the simplicity and truth of what he told me cut deep and stayed in my heart. They were times that, when I look back, I see just how great his love and genuine concern for me was. I am so grateful he was at peace when he knew I was engaged to marry my now-husband, Santi; and that he was at the church when we were presented after our pre-Cana seminar.