THE OLDEST and pioneer horseman at the Wright Park bridle path has gone home to the great range in the sky.

Like a lonesome cowboy riding into the sunset in the movies he used to watch,  Johnny Acop Molintas, forever “Manong Taimong” to the pony boys, passed on quietly early Thursday morning, in the family home at Gibraltar Barangay where he was born.

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In school, he carried his native name Banggilan up to the second grade at the Teachers Camp, after which Piskong, his father, renamed his eldest son Johnny.  

At birth, he was named Taimong, after a Chinaman who was into his daily round selling pandesal just when his mother Jacinta, of the Acop clan of Tublay, brought him out to the world, inside what today is the oldest house in Baguio..

“My father told me this house was built in 1884,” Manong Taimong recalled in a talk with video and photo-journalist Art Tibaldo and this writer in May last year. “Men and carabaos hauled the pine wood from the mountains.”

The residence is elevated by 10-foot posts, originally pine logs preserved by peat, with the ground space used as corral for cows and horses the family raised during the Spanish period. Proof of its age are the old choice pine ceiling, wall panels and flooring blackened by soot from the hearth that warmed and lighted up the place before the advent of electricity.   

His grandfather Molintas (he had only one name, Taimong stressed) set the home on a flattened hillside overlooking the Gibraltar Rd. It was the first house on what was once a pine forest that served as part of the family’s pastureland on the eastern side of Baguio that the Americans later called Topside.   

Molintas and his wife Gimbey raised three daughters and four sons in this order – Albina, Pedro, Piskong, Vencina, Magsia, Pulmano and Supra. The Ibaloi patriarch also served as third El Presidente of Baguio for a year, after the more popular Ibaloi patriarch Sioco Carino.  

Molintas had his house serve as refuge and meeting place of relatives coming from Tublay, Itogon and other parts of Benguet.

Officials of the American colonial government would avail of his horses and those of his relatives and fellow Ibalois in Loakan for their inspection of projects around the city they were building as the country’s Summer Capital and for their trips to Bontoc, then the capital of the old Mountain Province

Taimong remembered the city’s horse-for-hire trade began at “Peace Time”, the period before the Second World War, at the Burnham Park and at the Government Center, then the seat of the American colonial government in summer.   

He started renting out horses at Wright Park in 1946, just after the liberation, initially to a group of Girl Scouts from Clark.  From them and other riding enthusiasts, mostly U.S. army soldiers, the 10-year-old honed his English. Drawn to a horseman’s s life, he dropped out of first year high. Still, he learned the language with the dedication of earlier Filipinos taught by the Thomasites and who were ready to teach after finishing the sixth grade.

“An American soldier told me I spoke English well and asked if I’d been to the U.S.,” he said. “Well, I also served later as interpreter for Spanish-speaking riding customers at Wright Park.”

He remembers his first horses - Silver, a white pony, and Peter, a palomino. His father and uncles had hidden them with relatives in Bakong, near Beckel, La Trinidad town, sparing them from the occupying Japanese soldiers who were helping themselves to the livestock of the Ibalois around.

Taimong hanged his saddle and bridle after the 1990 killer quake. For a while, he was into treasure hunting that yielded Japanese soldiers’ helmets, rusting ammunition and skeletons and some sea shell fossils, but never a sign the fabled Yamashita Treasure.  

Younger, and now older, pony boys at the Wright Park remember him not only for the lessons they learned in roping, breaking-in, saddling, mounting and handling spirited horses.

This writer, who also grew up tending a neighbor’s pony at the bridle path, never saw him gamble his earnings through dice at the footsteps of Wright Park. He never lost his temper and never spoke ill of younger boys, some of whom would go home broke at the end of summer, their earnings –and sometimes their ponies – lost to vice.

Mang Taimong never married. He remained elusive to women drawn to his rugged, handsome looks after the legendary Wild Bill Hickok he saw in the movies. On the first night of the wake, his sisters Fermina and Dominga chuckled recalling how nannies of children-riders would find their way to the home in Gibraltar to know him more.

“The moment he would see those ladies in white coming from the road, he would quickly saddle up and ride away,” Fermina remembered.

At 74, Manong Taimong is survived by sisters and brothers Carmen (Dulay), Fermina (Paoad), Dominga (Valdez ), Nicolas, Melecia (Dangatan), Julia (Tanacio), Cipriana (Lopez) and Wanda, aside from 25 grand nephews and nieces and their own children.

He lies in state in his bachelor’s quarters behind the old family home in Gibraltar, in a pinewood casket, his head covered by a blue-and-red Buffalo Bills bull cap. On the floor, between the white coffin stands, lie his horse saddle and bridle.

The pioneer Ibaloi horseman will be buried this Monday within what remains of the Molintas ancestral land, beside his younger brother Mike.