When a horse is not a horse, it's...

Chuang Tha beach Myanmar01.JPG

Our eyes alighted upon the puzzle. Confusion and the same rally of thoughts scattered about our minds.

A zebra on a beach?

Zebras don’t live in this country.

Then, it isn’t a zebra. It’s a horse.

Horses don’t come with that pattern.

Someone’s painted it.


Which is more puzzling: zebras in Myanmar or painted horses?

Hot sand absorbed each step as we progressed towards the creature.

Upon its back, a home-made saddle, out of tape and carpet and borrowed straps. About its muzzle, the semblance of a harness.

Somewhere in the world, they ride zebra don’t they? Maybe that place is Myanmar, we thought.

The creature leaned against an upward post, a former tree, of a shack with roof of green loose-woven man-made cloth acting as a sun-breaker. This slack green cloth was overlain with palm leaves bleached grey by the sun. The shack ran some length. Its upward poles made of slim trunks. The upper part a criss-cross network of bamboo canes lashed together with crude string.

It’s a horse, we decided, and the truth was revealed.

“They’ve painted a horse!”

“No way,” we said with glee.

Our eyes went along the brown lines that decorated the horses’ coats. The difference was subtle, plain to see, but to the wanting willing eye it could have been a zebra, could have I insist, with its shorn mane, its pattern.

This steed was made by humans, not by nature.

We saw more. More horses. Honeytraps to lure tourists towards the bait. We were in; they’d caught us, ensnaring our unwitting selves into the shade of their stand, to the side of their painted steed.

Close up, we examined the horse-zebra and the guys who’d painted it. These dudes were mobsters of highest order; charm and swagger delighted us immediately. They struck poses, pulled the ubiquitous symbolic arrangement of fingers that every person being photographed assumes: Peace, man, peace. They pulled the visors of their caps down over their brow, posed, pouted.

Chuang Tha beach Myanmar02.JPG

When a zebra is a horse

Hand painted ponies on Chaung Tha beach tempt and delight.

In spite of the coquettish performance, there was tenderness displayed for each horse. They stroked the cheeks of their steeds, rode them with panache and skill, brushed the soft muzzles with affection, sat with pride upon their mount.

Cast aside the initial masquerade to see underneath to the nature of this relationship: we tend you, in turn you help us earn a Kyat or two.

This zebra-horse might be a symbol for Myanmar – not as a country recovering from military rule or international exclusion, but rather the resourcefulness and playfulness of her people.

Behold the saddle, a carefully constructed piece that to all intents and purposes resembles a saddle. It has a girth, a pommel, stirrups. Then, they’ve a bridle, too, where bridles ought to be. There is a bit running through the zebra-horse’s mouth. There are reins, too. But, this is not saddlery from a saddler’s. Goodness knows how this came about, yet as we gazed upon the carpet tile underneath, and saw the embossed plastic detailing on the bottle green saddle, the nature of the situation came out: take what you have, make of it what you can. So, if you have a horse, paint it as a zebra. If you have a carpet tile, make it as a numnah. There in, might be, a life lesson.