Part 15 mirrabooka horseman of the southern cross.

In a boardroom in Sydney, Australia, Samuel Horden had been called back from Europe to put out fires.

Word had come back to the Olympic Committee that the performance of the Australian Equestrians was not up to scratch. Was there value for the money being invested? Could it be better spent? Horden faced four members of the Committee and was flanked by his family Accountant, as he may need to make some important decisions.

One of the Board members, holding up a British newspaper, addressed Horden.
“Mr. Horden, your men are a laughing stock and according to this newspaper, once again the Australians appear to be enjoying a leisurely Sunday ride rather than competing at the highest level.”

Horden was accustomed to tough meetings but he was also acutely aware that these men do not understand, or appreciate, the brilliance of Franz Mairinger.
“I understand it doesn’t look good, but Franz had assured me it’s part of the preparation for”
A second committeeman, with a raised voice, interrupted,
“Part of the preparation sir? Is it part of the preparation to make this country and this Olympic Committee look like buffoons? We sir, have funded this Team to achieve results, not – what did that reporter write? ‘A leisurely Sunday ride’. This is not a holiday camp Samuel, some European jaunt on horseback.”

The conversation had become heated. Horden had tried to be diplomatic but was prepared to fight if required; such was his confidence in the men and Franz. At this moment, a Secretary entered the room.
“I have an urgent telegram for Mr Horden.”

Horden was relieved to excuse himself for a moment, if only to gather his emotions.
He opened the envelope and read the telegram.

“Sam.” stop.
“Time to get some results.” stop.
“Forming – tick.” stop
“Storming – tick.” stop
“Norming – tick.” stop
“Now for the performing.” stop
“Sit back and enjoy the ride.” stop
“Your good friend, Franz.” stop

Horden smiled to himself, for he knew too well that Mairinger had decided to enter the final faze of the preparation and no doubt things would be looking up from here.

“Gentlemen, I have a proposition for you. I will personally guarantee the Equestrian Team will achieve the results worthy of the Committee’s funding.”

“And if they don’t Mr. Horden, what do you propose?”

“I would reimburse the Committee every cent that has gone into this Olympic preparation.”

“This is the second preparation we have funded, Mr. Horden. Let’s not forget what a mess your men made out of the first, a certain medal gone begging. Are you prepared to reimburse us for expenses for both preparations?

“Gentleman you have my word.”

Horden’s Accountant was more than uncomfortable with Samuels  commitment.
“Can I speak to you in private Samuel?”

They walked out into the corridor.

“Sam, have you lost your senses? As you’re Accountant, I must advise you that to fully refund both preparations would have a catastrophic impact on your family business.”

Horden placed his hand on the worried Accountant’s shoulder,
“Albert, I do believe in these men and I believe in Franz. They won’t let this country, or me, down.

A large sign read, ‘Badminton Horses Trials’.

Crowds of people were arriving at the annual Badminton Horse Trial,  there was an air of importance and occasion. This competition was rich in history and was arguably the greatest test of horse and rider in the world. Franz had called the Team together for a meeting, something was afoot; the men were excited.

“Gentlemen, I am aware of the difficulties you have endured to this point. I also have been forced to put up with the petty remarks and insults, but be assured it has all been for a good cause. The time has come gentlemen, to show the world what we can do. The best individual riders from every Team will ride here over the next three days, and we will shine. If you ride with all the gusto that I know you have and with the technical skill you have all developed, this day will be ours.”

The Australian riders were ecstatic; how they had waited for this day. They felt strong and confident, they had done the work they had consolidated their lessons, and their horses had never felt better. The ribbing and jibes from other riders had built a resolve and tightness in the Team, which could only be developed in the face of adversity. Together, they left with smiles beaming from ear to ear.

His warm up complete, Neale Lavis and Mirrabooka were about to enter the arena for their Dressage test.

Mirrabooka had muscled up considerably during the lead up competitions, this English environment had agreed with him. He was powerful and supple all at once as he circled left and right preparing to enter the arena with his well muscled crest flicking from side to side. Lavis turned and rode through the gate and into he arena, the battle had begun.

Mairinger thought to himself, “This horse has never been more ready.”

The combination trotted rhythmically forward down the centre line and then comply, yet powerfully they came to a perfectly still square halt.

“Perfect halt,” described the commentator, “tens for that.”

Lavis and Mirrabooka went on to perform a flawless test with Lavis riding with the confident air of an athlete at the absolute top of his game; there is no doubt, nothing had been left to chance.

As the test ended, Mirrabooka came elastically to another perfect halt.

“Need I comment?” continued the commentator, “a test like that speaks for itself.”

Lavis dropped his reins and Mirrabooka reached out gracefully with his powerful neck and strutted from the area.

Mairinger was there to meet them as they left the stadium.

“That was the best test we have ever done!” beamed Lavis when he saw Franz’s proud fatherly-look.

Mairinger beamed, “A sublime performance Neale”.

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The Australians, powerful throughout the competition, excelled at every discipline. They were on fire and there was only the hope that they were not leaving their best here with the Olympics still in front of them.

What a triumphant day and what a relief for Mairinger. It’s all been worth it, all coaches have a plan that they believe in, but when it comes to fruition, there is no greater feeling of accomplishment.

Mirrabooka had shone from the moment he strode into the Dressage arena until he crossed the finish line after the final jump in the Showjumping. Neale Lavis had been as good as his horse, a study of riding perfection, not a moment of lost concentration, and never a doubt about the decisions he had made on course.

 

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The Australians had finished 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5fth. This was an unprecedented Team effort, which had caught the eye of the opposition and earned a great deal of respect from all but the English Captain Forbes-Stewart, who couldn’t find a kind word for the triumphant convicts. An hour later in the stabling area, a vet was inspecting Mirrabooka and there was an air of dread.

Roycroft arrived “What going on?”
Lavis replied “It’s Mirrabooka. He’s pulled up lame.”
At this moment, the vet who had had the horse’s fetlock contracted, stepped back.
“Trot him out.” Neale trotted Mirrabooka for 20 yards, turned and trotted him back. He was obviously lame.

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“Yeah that’s worse,” noted the vet, “a slightly strained check ligament I would say, not the end of him, but it’s not good news, six weeks at best.”
Lavis was shattered, “Six weeks, that’s right up until Rome.”
Mairinger was devastated, but went straight into damage control.
“You will need to start working on a new horse Neale, there is no other option.”
“I would Franz, but can I still try and keep this bloke fit? He might come good, I’ll walk and swim him as much as necessary, what do you think doc?”
“Yes, he can walk okay and definitely swim, that won’t adversely affect his recovery.”

At this point, Mirrabooka was the best horse in the eventing world, now the race would be on to keep him fit and help him recover in time to compete at the fast approaching Olympic Games.

Lavis would do all he could and he would be supported by his Teammates who all felt his pain.

Only time would tell.

part 14 Mirrabooka. horseman of the southern cross

Franz Mairinger and Samuel  Holden sat around a table, strewn with documentation and telegrams. Pressure was mounting from the Australian Olympic Committee. The Team had not been producing results and this was not what they were used to. Australian athletes and swimmers were predominant and performing admirably in the lead up to the Games by breaking or threatening to break world records. Household names like Dawn Frazer, Herb Elliot and Murray Rose appeared in the papers daily, with their latest performances and all were appearing certain to bring back medals at very little cost.

Horden had worked hard to get this Equestrian Team to the Games, he now needed to prove that it hadn’t been a waste of time, however, pressure was mounting.

Horden began, “The Team really needs to start registering some good results in competition, it seems we copped a bit of a ragging from the papers after the foxhunt the other day, but I’m sure they will want to show what they’re made of at upcoming events.”

Mairinger appreciated Horden’s concern but he had no doubt that the Team were on the right track, “This is preparation for the Olympics, we will not extend the horses any further than is necessary.”

“The Equestrian Federation has put up a lot of money to fund this Franz, they expect to see results.”

“Sam, we are still building the foundations of this Team.”

Sam wanted to believe in Franz, but he was starting to struggle with the constant peppering from home, “And solid foundations cost money, without results we can’t guarantee the money will be there.”

Mairinger would not be moved, “I will guarantee the ultimate result Sam and you take care of everything else.”

Mairinger warmly patted Horden on the shoulder and got up to leave the meeting. As he was walking out Horden spoke his worried thoughts,
“I hope you’re right Franz, I hope you’re right.”

Over the coming weeks, the Australians competed regularly at One Day Events, which is a shortened version of the Olympic Three Day Event comprising all of the elements, with the exception of the gruelling roads, tracks and steeplechase sections, and they serve as an excellent training ground. The Australians rode with ultimate control, the horses striding out rhythmically on the cross country course never looking as though they were helter skelter, as were many of the other competitors. It was a pleasure to watch the way they approached complicated combinations, as though they had jumped them a thousand times before. The horses and men were supremely balanced and calm and there was an air about them, the foundation was building confidence and accuracy and they were constantly on the improve.

No one, including the English press, had noticed the way they were going about their business. Over several comps, they gradually climbed the leader board, not enough to worry anyone else, but enough to have Franz very happy with the progress. The fitness of the horses was sneaking up to the required level and injuries had been avoided. Over this period, Crago and his horse, Our solo had been the only concern, not that there had been any major drama, but the horse had not responded to his rider as well as Franz had hoped when they were made a combination back in Australia.

It was a tricky situation, as both our solo and Sabre belonged to, and were trained by, Bill Roycroft. When Bill had been asked to hand a horse to Brian, he had decided to hang on to Sabre, as he was his favourite horse and Bill saw him as the best chance to get a medal at the Games. Our solo was a good horse, but he was a little short for Bill who stood at 6ft 1”. He could be a bit tricky, based on his background as a polo pony, and he was a little excitable at times. Crago was a genius at working with horses, but he had his own way and he had not trained our solo from the beggining

Franz balked at the thought of asking Bill to relinquish Sabre to Brian, but he knew it was the best thing for the Team. Roycroft had come a long way from the day he had slightly selfishly, and acceptably so, chosen to ride his beloved Sabre. He was now on board with the Team program, he too had seen the issues between Solo and Brian and had already in his mind, decided that the best course of action was to swap horses. What a credit to a great Team-man, to give up his best personal chance at a medal, for the benefit of the entire Team. It was easily settled, Bill moved across to Our solo  and Brian would ride the uncomplicated and brilliant Sabre.

The Australian’s results continued to improve until at last, at the end of a fairly solid day’s competition, the Australians, still yet to have put their cards on the table, had all finished in the top ten. Not surprisingly, Mairinger was very happy; they were on track.

Throughout the competitive weeks, Judith and Crago had become closer and she was now assisting the Australian’s with grooming and competition-day duties. Though engrossed in his own performances and success, Forbes-Stewart had watched the building relationship between the two. His dislike for the Australians in general had grown, he had won a number of the events at which the Australians had competed and had taken every opportunity to let them know how well he was travelling in the lead up to the Games, as had the
British media.

The Team, casually dressed, was gathered outside their hotel. They had been given some time to relax, as Franz recognised that both man and horse cannot work on day after day and expect to remain fresh. Morgan was not keen for a rest, he would double the workload if it was up to him and it was all Franz can do to keep him under control.

Lavis was ready for the break. His horse, Mirrabooka, had been exceptional, probably the best performed at this stage and he recognised he and his mount needed some time off. “What a relief to have a break, we can finally get out and have a look around the place. You not coming for a look Brian?”
“No, you guys go and enjoy yourselves. I’ve got a few thing to attend to.”
Roycroft pipes up teasingly, “Yeah, some Judith things! Have a good day mate.”
“I wish.” Crago replied.

In full hunt regalia, Crago climbed aboard a horse, and he and Judith rode off to join another hunt about to start. Forbes-Stewart, always looking for an opportunity to rag the Australians, rode up.
“I see you’ve chosen to ride with the women today Mr Crago, probably a wise choice after your last effort. Remember, if you find the fences a little daunting, you can always use the gates.” Laughter broke out amongst the other riders.
With a false smile through gritted teeth, Crago replied, “I’ll keep that in mind.”

Forbes-Stewart, in his efforts to belittle Crago and the Australians, had totally lost Judith’s friendship. She now detested him and everything he represented. Her growing fondness for the Australians, and particularly Crago, had surprised her. She had grown up with the rich and wealthy and could not have imagined herself attracted to the simple, unpretentious Australians. Their warmth and mateship had impressed her no-end; she was sold. These were the people she wanted to be around.

The horn sounded and the hunt was on. Somewhere in the countryside, three men appeared dressed in costumes reminiscent of convict uniforms, white with black arrows. Their faces were blacked and they wore fake beards.

A man with them held three agitated Thoroughbreds, saddled and ready to go. It was the groom from the previous hunt, the man who had shared supper with the Australians.

“I’m telling you Gov, there ain’t nothin’ faster than these over a mile. Harry Wilson owed me a favour; he’s one of the best trainers we’ve got. Now come on, give us a look at yous. The missus made them outfits, just the way you asked for them Mr Roycroft.”

Roycroft, Morgan and Lavis appeared from behind the hedge in their costumes. Roycroft held a large net on a long pole.
Morgan spoke urgently, “Here they come boys, jump up.”
The three men mounted the horses. The hunt was approaching with the hounds on the tail of a fox, which was at full stretch. The terrifying noise drove him on; it was a life and death struggle, which the hounds would eventually win. Now several hours into the hunt, the riders followed on at full gallop with their tired horses struggling to keep up. On close inspection, Forbes-Stewart, and his English Team mates, could be seen at the front of the group, along with the Frenchman whom the Australians met at the previous hunt.

As the hunt proceeded across an open field, the result seemed imminent and inevitable, the fox now without cover, had no means of escape; his time was running out.

Suddenly, whooping and hollering was heard from the rear of the group of hunters, as three horses and riders had apparently appeared from nowhere. The fresh and very fast Thoroughbreds quickly catch and pass the heavy English Hunters. The three riders were quickly up with the hounds, they pass them and rode on towards the terrified and exhausted fox. As they reached the fox, Roycroft presented his long net, as one would a tent pegging lance, he swooped down and scooped up the fox in one quick movement, presented the net to Morgan and still at full gallop, Morgan took the fox by the scruff of the neck and the Australians galloped off at breakneck speed.

The hounds slowly gave up the chase, the scent was gone and they mingled around confused at what had just happened. The hunt riders came to a halt and were all dumbfounded.

The Frenchman turned to Forbes-Stewart, “I think we can safely say we now know what they are made of.”
Forbes-Stewart was enraged, “Those bloody disrespectful colonials will pay, and it’s their only pathetic chance to have a victory.”
Just then, Crago and Judith caught up to the front group. Crago had watched in amazement, even he couldn’t believe what he had just witnessed.
“I suppose you knew about this?” snapped Forbes-Stewart in Crago’s direction.
“Didn’t look like anyone I know.” came Crago’s reply with a wry smile.
Crago and Judith didn’t give Forbes-Stewart an opportunity to reply and they turned and rode away from the hunt.
Judith turned to Crago, “I get the feeling you may have known those fellows.”
Crago smiled, “They did look a little familiar.”
The two laughed and trotted off.
Back at the stables, they dismounted and handed their horses to the grooms.
They walked to a quiet area of the building, “I’d say that will be our last hunt invitation.” noted Crago.
“William and his friends will be absolutely livid,” laughed Judith. “I’ve never met anyone like you before, you’re so unpretentious and so uninfluenced by what others think. This whole social status thing means nothing at all to you?”
Crago placed his hands on Judith’s waist and turned her to face him.
“No, but how much does it mean to you?”
Judith’s reply is soft but with conviction “Obviously not as much as I thought it did.”
The two embraced and kiss. The ice was broken, two very different people from very different backgrounds, love has no boundaries.

part 14 Mirrabooka. horseman of the southern cross

Franz Mairinger and Samuel  Holden sat around a table, strewn with documentation and telegrams. Pressure was mounting from the Australian Olympic Committee. The Team had not been producing results and this was not what they were used to. Australian athletes and swimmers were predominant and performing admirably in the lead up to the Games by breaking or threatening to break world records. Household names like Dawn Frazer, Herb Elliot and Murray Rose appeared in the papers daily, with their latest performances and all were appearing certain to bring back medals at very little cost.

Horden had worked hard to get this Equestrian Team to the Games, he now needed to prove that it hadn’t been a waste of time, however, pressure was mounting.

Horden began, “The Team really needs to start registering some good results in competition, it seems we copped a bit of a ragging from the papers after the foxhunt the other day, but I’m sure they will want to show what they’re made of at upcoming events.”

Mairinger appreciated Horden’s concern but he had no doubt that the Team were on the right track, “This is preparation for the Olympics, we will not extend the horses any further than is necessary.”

“The Equestrian Federation has put up a lot of money to fund this Franz, they expect to see results.”

“Sam, we are still building the foundations of this Team.”

Sam wanted to believe in Franz, but he was starting to struggle with the constant peppering from home, “And solid foundations cost money, without results we can’t guarantee the money will be there.”

Mairinger would not be moved, “I will guarantee the ultimate result Sam and you take care of everything else.”

Mairinger warmly patted Horden on the shoulder and got up to leave the meeting. As he was walking out Horden spoke his worried thoughts,
“I hope you’re right Franz, I hope you’re right.”

Over the coming weeks, the Australians competed regularly at One Day Events, which is a shortened version of the Olympic Three Day Event comprising all of the elements, with the exception of the gruelling roads, tracks and steeplechase sections, and they serve as an excellent training ground. The Australians rode with ultimate control, the horses striding out rhythmically on the cross country course never looking as though they were helter skelter, as were many of the other competitors. It was a pleasure to watch the way they approached complicated combinations, as though they had jumped them a thousand times before. The horses and men were supremely balanced and calm and there was an air about them, the foundation was building confidence and accuracy and they were constantly on the improve.

No one, including the English press, had noticed the way they were going about their business. Over several comps, they gradually climbed the leader board, not enough to worry anyone else, but enough to have Franz very happy with the progress. The fitness of the horses was sneaking up to the required level and injuries had been avoided. Over this period, Crago and his horse, Salad Days, had been the only concern, not that there had been any major drama, but the horse had not responded to his rider as well as Franz had hoped when they were made a combination back in Australia.

It was a tricky situation, as both Salad Days and Sabre belonged to, and were trained by, Bill Roycroft. When Bill had been asked to hand a horse to Brian, he had decided to hang on to Sabre, as he was his favourite horse and Bill saw him as the best chance to get a medal at the Games. Salad Days was a good horse, but he was a little short for Bill who stood at 6ft 1”. He could be a bit tricky, based on his background as a polo pony, and he was a little excitable at times. Crago was a genius at working with horses, but he had his own way and he had not trained salad days from the beggining

Franz balked at the thought of asking Bill to relinquish Sabre to Brian, but he knew it was the best thing for the Team. Roycroft had come a long way from the day he had slightly selfishly, and acceptably so, chosen to ride his beloved Sabre. He was now on board with the Team program, he too had seen the issues between Salad Days and Brian and had already in his mind, decided that the best course of action was to swap horses. What a credit to a great Team-man, to give up his best personal chance at a medal, for the benefit of the entire Team. It was easily settled, Bill moved across to Salad Days and Brian would ride the uncomplicated and brilliant Sabre.

The Australian’s results continued to improve until at last, at the end of a fairly solid day’s competition, the Australians, still yet to have put their cards on the table, had all finished in the top ten. Not surprisingly, Mairinger was very happy; they were on track.

Throughout the competitive weeks, Judith and Crago had become closer and she was now assisting the Australian’s with grooming and competition-day duties. Though engrossed in his own performances and success, Forbes-Stewart had watched the building relationship between the two. His dislike for the Australians in general had grown, he had won a number of the events at which the Australians had competed and had taken every opportunity to let them know how well he was travelling in the lead up to the Games, as had the
British media.

The Team, casually dressed, was gathered outside their hotel. They had been given some time to relax, as Franz recognised that both man and horse cannot work on day after day and expect to remain fresh. Morgan was not keen for a rest, he would double the workload if it was up to him and it was all Franz can do to keep him under control.

Lavis was ready for the break. His horse, Mirrabooka, had been exceptional, probably the best performed at this stage and he recognised he and his mount needed some time off. “What a relief to have a break, we can finally get out and have a look around the place. You not coming for a look Brian?”
“No, you guys go and enjoy yourselves. I’ve got a few thing to attend to.”
Roycroft pipes up teasingly, “Yeah, some Judith things! Have a good day mate.”
“I wish.” Crago replied.

In full hunt regalia, Crago climbed aboard a horse, and he and Judith rode off to join another hunt about to start. Forbes-Stewart, always looking for an opportunity to rag the Australians, rode up.
“I see you’ve chosen to ride with the women today Mr Crago, probably a wise choice after your last effort. Remember, if you find the fences a little daunting, you can always use the gates.” Laughter broke out amongst the other riders.
With a false smile through gritted teeth, Crago replied, “I’ll keep that in mind.”

Forbes-Stewart, in his efforts to belittle Crago and the Australians, had totally lost Judith’s friendship. She now detested him and everything he represented. Her growing fondness for the Australians, and particularly Crago, had surprised her. She had grown up with the rich and wealthy and could not have imagined herself attracted to the simple, unpretentious Australians. Their warmth and mateship had impressed her no-end; she was sold. These were the people she wanted to be around.

The horn sounded and the hunt was on. Somewhere in the countryside, three men appeared dressed in costumes reminiscent of convict uniforms, white with black arrows. Their faces were blacked and they wore fake beards.

A man with them held three agitated Thoroughbreds, saddled and ready to go. It was the groom from the previous hunt, the man who had shared supper with the Australians.

“I’m telling you Gov, there ain’t nothin’ faster than these over a mile. Harry Wilson owed me a favour; he’s one of the best trainers we’ve got. Now come on, give us a look at yous. The missus made them outfits, just the way you asked for them Mr Roycroft.”

Roycroft, Morgan and Lavis appeared from behind the hedge in their costumes. Roycroft held a large net on a long pole.
Morgan spoke urgently, “Here they come boys, jump up.”
The three men mounted the horses. The hunt was approaching with the hounds on the tail of a fox, which was at full stretch. The terrifying noise drove him on; it was a life and death struggle, which the hounds would eventually win. Now several hours into the hunt, the riders followed on at full gallop with their tired horses struggling to keep up. On close inspection, Forbes-Stewart, and his English Team mates, could be seen at the front of the group, along with the Frenchman whom the Australians met at the previous hunt.

As the hunt proceeded across an open field, the result seemed imminent and inevitable, the fox now without cover, had no means of escape; his time was running out.

Suddenly, whooping and hollering was heard from the rear of the group of hunters, as three horses and riders had apparently appeared from nowhere. The fresh and very fast Thoroughbreds quickly catch and pass the heavy English Hunters. The three riders were quickly up with the hounds, they pass them and rode on towards the terrified and exhausted fox. As they reached the fox, Roycroft presented his long net, as one would a tent pegging lance, he swooped down and scooped up the fox in one quick movement, presented the net to Morgan and still at full gallop, Morgan took the fox by the scruff of the neck and the Australians galloped off at breakneck speed.

The hounds slowly gave up the chase, the scent was gone and they mingled around confused at what had just happened. The hunt riders came to a halt and were all dumbfounded.

The Frenchman turned to Forbes-Stewart, “I think we can safely say we now know what they are made of.”
Forbes-Stewart was enraged, “Those bloody disrespectful colonials will pay, and it’s their only pathetic chance to have a victory.”
Just then, Crago and Judith caught up to the front group. Crago had watched in amazement, even he couldn’t believe what he had just witnessed.
“I suppose you knew about this?” snapped Forbes-Stewart in Crago’s direction.
“Didn’t look like anyone I know.” came Crago’s reply with a wry smile.
Crago and Judith didn’t give Forbes-Stewart an opportunity to reply and they turned and rode away from the hunt.
Judith turned to Crago, “I get the feeling you may have known those fellows.”
Crago smiled, “They did look a little familiar.”
The two laughed and trotted off.
Back at the stables, they dismounted and handed their horses to the grooms.
They walked to a quiet area of the building, “I’d say that will be our last hunt invitation.” noted Crago.
“William and his friends will be absolutely livid,” laughed Judith. “I’ve never met anyone like you before, you’re so unpretentious and so uninfluenced by what others think. This whole social status thing means nothing at all to you?”
Crago placed his hands on Judith’s waist and turned her to face him.
“No, but how much does it mean to you?”
Judith’s reply is soft but with conviction “Obviously not as much as I thought it did.”
The two embraced and kiss. The ice was broken, two very different people from very different backgrounds, love has no boundaries.

Horses from courses UK tour.

Since the release of my book, Horses from Courses, last year, I have found myself much more involved in the retraining of people than ever before in conjunction with retraining of ex-racehorses. This is where the future of the OTTB (Off the track Thoroughbred) rests, in the hands of those willing to put the effort into assuring there is somewhere to go and something to do at the end of the horses’ racing careers.

On my recent trip to the UK, I was able to take part in an exchange of ideas with some of the longest serving and best known Thoroughbred retraining and rehoming programs in the world.
I visited the Godolphin Retraining Centre at Newmarket England, where I toured the facility and gave a somewhat impromptu demonstration of my Horses from Courses/TRT (Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Trust) training system.

Godolphin, from my experience, is the most responsible Thoroughbred racing and breeding organisation in the world. They do everything they can to ensure their horses are well looked after from birth to death.

The Godolphin Retraining Centre has 12 horses in work at any one time with a small paid staff, as do we at TRT, and like us, numerous invaluable volunteers.

Godolphin has knowledgeable and committed staff, as do all rehoming programs. Whilst there, I did some work with the staff and a couple of horses, introducing them to my simple systematic approach to retraining and as I always explain, I have invented nothing. All I have done is take a very effective and relevant training technique and put it into an order which by virtue of its simplistic step by step nature, makes retraining horses off the track simple, effective and efficient. You don’t take the next step until you have solidified the previous step.

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Godolphin fund the program at Newmarket and horses are virtually given away at the end of their training. Only a very well funded organisation, with a serious conscience, can and will do what Godolphin do for their horses.

Next stop was Lambourn, two hours drive south where I met with Di Arbothnot the CEO of ROR (Retraining of Racehorses). This organisation is committed to the cause with a strong focus on developing the perception in the less accepting UK market that Thoroughbreds can do well in the general equestrian world. ROR is privately funded through sponsorship and donations and they run competitions specifically for Thoroughbreds as well as training clinics for those interested in rehoming. Di introduced me to Grace Muir  at the HEROS (Homing Ex-Racehorses Organisation Scheme) organisation. HEROS retrain ex-racehorses and find them new homes. The horses from HEROS go out on a lease arrangement and are followed up throughout their lives after racing.

At Lambourn, I gave a full demonstration to the ROR and HEROS staff and it was very well received. The educated horse people of these organisations saw immediately the simplicity of my system and recognised its value for the retraining community.

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I have been invited back to do some training with their staff and run a clinic and demonstration for the general public. The horse I worked at Lambourn had been diagnosed with kissing spine. This seems to be the most recent catch phrase amongst the equine community in the UK. Put simply, horses who don’t carry themselves correctly, engaging their core and lifting up toward the carried weight, finish up with hollowed backs which in time can lead to the process of the spine compacting, thus causing discomfort and pain. I am, as was Grace at HEROS, a strong believer that correct riding and training can eliminate the oinset of kissing spine and go very far to rectifying the problem should it already exist. Had I not been told about the horse’s diagnosis, I would never have guessed, as when asked to hold himself correctly, there were no symptoms.

My final equine engagement was with the IHWT (Irish Horse Welfare Trust) at balcultry stables in Swords, just north of Dublin City. As with England, Ireland has a perception issue with the idea of using Thoroughbreds for purposes other than racing. Their rich equine heritage, spanning back thousands of years, has seen the development of horses for every purpose. The niches filled by Thoroughbreds in Australia are well serviced by several different types of purpose-bred animals. Along with developing an accepting OTTB market, IHWT recognise the need for training and support of those who are interested in taking a horse off the track.

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I presented a demonstration/clinic to a committed and focused audience. Working with one horse who had already had some work after racing, who exhibited the familiar traits of those we receive at the TRT, had already been started by those well-meaning, but maybe not quite as qualified as required, owners/riders. I often describe these horses as a handful of tangled fishing line; it can be difficult to unravel the tangles already created. The horse was very nice, as were his new owners and with commitment to what I showed on the day, they should finish with a good result.

The second horse was straight out of racing and presented a great opportunity to show the effectiveness of my training system. He was a dream and flowed along through the process without incident. It’s often embarrassing how simple the system can be and it was good that everyone knew I had never seen the horse before the clinic. They may have otherwise questioned whether I had spent several sessions with the horse tuning him to my methods.

Overall the tour was a great experience, I met very well meaning horse people I hope to work with in the future. I was made aware of the variations of circumstances facing the Thoroughbred rehoming communities in different countries. And I came away confident that my ‘Horses from Courses’ retraining system holds up very well on the international stage. It made me very proud of my staff and volunteers at the TRT. Thanks to all of you for your ongoing efforts.

Gotta love kids

My 5 year old started school this year. He is a very switched on kid I’ve had five boys so I have fair idea. He doesn’t miss a trick you would think he had been here before. Last night we went to his first school disco, he was very keen to catch up with his new best mate Mataio. He looked and looked but couldn’t find him in the crowd . “Maybe he isn’t here” I said. “He must be “he said “I have seen his mum.” We looked with no luck, “what does he look like ?” I asked , now, remember this is a very smart kid who notices everything, “he looks exactly like me he said. ” Where is his mum I asked ,”over there” he pointed to a tall statuesque African woman.
we found Mataio . Gotta love kids.image

Different strokes for different folks. Varying strategies for thoroughbred re homing organisations

On my recent trip to the UK, I was astounded to see variations in horse cultures from countries with a common ancestry. I would like to discuss specifically, the variations in relation to the perceptions of the Thoroughbred horse and how those perceptions and history influence the best practices for organisations committed to the welfare of horses at the conclusion of their racing careers.

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Until  recently 95% of police horses in Australia were thoroughbred

In Australia, the Thoroughbred has always been recognised as a competitive equestrian and pleasure horse, as well as a supreme racing athlete. The Thoroughbred is a relatively new breed of horse, beginning its development only 400 years ago and has been in Australia for the country’s entire equestrian history. It is the foundation of the only recognised Australian breed, the Australian Stock Horse.

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The all purpose Australian stock horse sports some of the best thoroughbred blood lines in the world

Up until only 20 years ago, Thoroughbreds were double registered as Stock Horses and Thoroughbreds. The Stock Horse foundation has some of the best racing blood in the world. When Australia burst onto the international equestrian scene, they did so on the Thoroughbred. Our second Olympic Games, brought us three equestrian medals; two gold and silver all on the backs of Thoroughbreds. image

The highly successful Australian olypic team from Rome 1960 all ride thoroughbred horses 

From that time forward, the Thoroughbred has been the backbone of Australian equestrianism. Up until recently, the Thoroughbred was trained to the highest level in dressage, show jumping and eventing. The introduction in any serious way of the European Warmblood and other foreign breeds is relatively new, occurring in the last 30 years or so.

A market for the Thoroughbred exists and always has. Some damage to the market has been done by the introduction of the foreign breeds, but largely, Australia appreciates and utilises the abilities of the Thoroughbred. The focus for the rehoming of Thoroughbreds in Australia needs to be education of riders, particularly those who have been influenced by the current fashion of the foreign breeds. Professional retraining of Thoroughbred horses, in numbers that can supply the hungry market and to a lesser extent, the renewed promotion of the Thoroughbred as a competition and leisure horse.

The UK has an historic and rich horse culture that goes way back before the advent of the Thoroughbred. In fact, in the 10,000 years of history of the UK, the Thoroughbred is a very new addition. Breeds have, over the millennia in the UK, been developed for specific purposes, such as, war horses, Draft breeds, riding breeds, carrying and carriage breeds.

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Purpose bred horses in the equestrian environment of the UK. Top left the Irish sport horse, top right Spanish breeds found there way into the UK with the Romans. Bottom right the ancient Cleveland bay developed as a load carrying horse.

The original English-bred horses were combined with an infusion of Arabian blood only recently, to develop the speed and stamina of the modern Thoroughbred. The Thoroughbred has not been needed for any specific purpose, other than racing.

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Only in recent times were these three foundation stallions added to the equestrian landscape in order to develop the modern thoroughbred.

So in the UK, the Thoroughbred is a racehorse, the Irish sport horse is great for jumping, hunting and eventing, the European Warmbloods and Spanish breeds suit dressage, with various breeds of ponies and mixtures of the aforementioned breeds having served as pleasure horses. There has been no need to bring the Thoroughbred into the equation.

Now with large numbers of Thoroughbreds leaving the racing industry and with greater expectation of the population in relation to horse welfare, Thoroughbred rehoming organisations in the UK need to promote the use of the Thoroughbred in the various equestrian fields. Money is being spent promoting competitions featuring Thoroughbred classes and awards are given for Thoroughbreds excelling in open competition. This needs to be the main focus of this rehoming market, but it needs to happen in tandem with an educational focus giving potential Thoroughbred owners the tools and support needed to make the rehoming of these ex-racehorses an enjoyable experience.

So two surprisingly different market places. Australia with an existing market, requiring a focus on education and supply to the market and the UK still in the process of developing an accepted and viable market, but also with a requirement for education and support for that market.
I have been retraining Thoroughbreds for nearly 30 years and it wasn’t until I visited the UK recently with a focus on Thoroughbred rehoming, that I became aware of the acute differences in the horse cultures and the varying requirements in the field of Thoroughbred rehoming throughout the world.

Each market must be assessed and focused on the most relevant issues in its unique environment. There is no doubt that each market in each country with a thoroughbred industry will face its own challenges and must develop strategies to siut their particular needs.

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Education, training and support are esential elements of any thoroughbred re homing program . 

Largely, I think a three-pronged approach of establishing a market, producing a product and then developing an industry around the development of the product, is the way forward for the Thoroughbred racehorse. Rehoming industry, these three elements will be required in all environments but each in varying portions determined by the individual market places.

Personally, I am happy to be involved in such a worthy cause in a positive way, it’s disappointing to see some of the passionate anti-racing organisations wasting their energies in a negative way, rather than working positively to produce a better outcome for horses at the end of their racing careers.

 

part 13 “Mirrabooka” horseman of the southern cross.

The Team find themselves at a finely manicured English estate surrounded by grooms busily unloading and tacking up horses, in preparation for the foxhunt.

Heavily built horses stand quietly, apparently unfazed by the hustle and bustle—it is obvious that they have been here before. Three times a week, throughout the hunt season, the Hunt Master controls 17 pairs of hounds made up of 34 line bred dogs— their lineage trailing back to the Middle Ages complete with meticulous records. He holds a stock whip in his hand— the dogs, though excited, stay in place as though held by an invisible gate, at his signal, they will explode into action.

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In a room attached to a stable complex, the hunt riders partake in stirrup cups; Dutch courage to get them through the day’s trials.

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A group of men and women stand around a tall, handsome man— he has them enthralled with his story. “So my father was a very wealthy man and he had decided that I would be an accountant— I had decided I would join the Queen’s Cavalry, well daddy says to me ‘If you go to university and study accounting, I shall buy you a new Jaguar car each time you pass your yearly exams.’ Well the girls love a Jaguar so I went to university. Now while I was at university, I got this lovely horse and I hunted him regularly, every beautiful blonde girl who came from Sweden, Germany or Austria wanted to ride my wonderful horse and I often took them driving in my Jaguars. Now, after a while, I deduced that of the girls who came driving in my Jag, I would bed 45%, well of those that rode my beautiful horse I would bed 85%. So I say ‘daddy fuck accounting, I’m joining the cavalry and going hunting!’” All and sundry erupt into fits of laughter.

The Duke addressed the crowd, “Ladies and gentleman, welcome to today’s hunt. It is a pleasure to host you. May I make special welcome today to our comrades from Australia, they are here to prepare for the upcoming eventing season and ultimately the Rome Olympics. Welcome to my good friend, Samuel Horden and your fellows.”

A few minutes later, all of the participants had mounted their horses. They were made up of large, heavy-boned animals, a good part Thoroughbred but a solid part Draft— next to them the Australian Thoroughbreds, hard and fit, looked almost weedy, even Mirrabooka looked dwarfed by some of the huge hunters.

The Australians were greeted by most of the 60 riders. The excitement levels rose as the horn sounded and the hounds were released, followed closely by the red-coated huntsman whose responsibility was to control the pack.

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The mounted riders watched and listened as the dogs moved off in the distance, zigzagging across the field, searching for the faintest scent of their quarry. Suddenly, the barking of the dogs intensified and the horn sounded again; the hunt was on.

The keenest of the riders cantered off in the direction of the dogs, who were some half a mile away, whilst others trotted along behind, each working at their own level. The Australians were trotting behind with dainty ladies and old men on older horses— they would have loved to be cantering up front with the leading pack. Franz turned to them, “No one passes me.” The men understood the importance of Franz’s concern, but as the lead pack pass back against the trailing end on the other side of a hedge, there are some snide remarks directed at the Australians’ expense. Morgan grits his teeth, his nature is telling him to ride on and show these fellas how it’s done— in the past he would have made them look like fools; all credit to his discipline and respect for Franz that he didn’t.

The hunt wove its way through the beautiful English countryside. Horse and rider jumped any obstacle that came up in front of them,— ditches and hedges. They bounced across country lanes bounded by stone walls on either side, this is where the cross country faze of eventing originated; soldiers in battle, riding from location to location in a straight line in order to arrive in the shortest time.

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The Australians continued to trot on behind, opening and closing gates to negotiate hedges and fences, sometimes popping over easy options with very little effort— they were frustrated. However, Franz was happy as it turned out to be a good, calm outing for the horses that were fresh off the boat. If they had not followed such a weaving path, the slow moving Australians would have lost contact with the hunt, this may have been a blessing, for now at every opportunity, young, brash Englishmen were taunting them each time they come into ear shot, “Come on Aussies, show us what you can do on those little ponies of yours!”— the Team sat tight under Franz’s instructions.

After a few hours, the hunt was complete horses were being washed down and generally tended to, they were covered with mud and some in a lather of sweat. The Australian horses on the other hand, have not raised a drop of sweat and had only the slightest splashes of mud under their bellies. It had been a fairly easy day just as Franz had prescribed.

The Australians felt humiliated and the young Englishmen were enjoying the tongue in cheek ribbing of the ‘colonials’, ‘convicts’ and ‘down under boys’. Many of the local riders had passed their horses onto grooms and were already partaking in refreshments. As the Australians approached the stabling area, a ruckus could be heard. A young groom was trying to hold a fractious horse and he was getting dragged around whilst cursing the animal. A young woman, obviously the horse’s owner, was distressed at the goings on and was yelling directions to the groom. At this point, Crago handed “Our Solo” to Lavis and ran to the aid of the groom. He took the horse’s lead from the groom and rather than pulling, allowed the horse to move backward until it stopped panicking. At this point, Crago moved quietly toward the horse’s head, speaking softly he eventually blew into the horse’s nostrils, thus creating an instant change in the horse’s demeanour. The horse relaxed as he focused on Crago and was immediately confidant to be in his presence.

The young woman approached, she was beautiful— Crago had not noticed this in the heat of the moment, but now he blushed slightly as she came towards him. “Thank you so much, how did you do that? I’ve never seen such a thing.”
Haven’t you ever seen a mare blow into a foal’s nostrils? answered Crago, “It’s no big deal, just horse talk, lets them know everything is alright.”

Just as Crago had been taken by the woman’s beauty and her sweet English accent, she in turn, was taken by the Australian’s rugged good looks and gentle approach. There was something in the air.

At this moment, the Englishman, who had earlier told the story of his father and his conquests, arrived on the scene. “Judith darling, there you are, we are all waiting for you. Give the horse to the groom and come up to the house.”

He took the reins of Judith’s horse and handed them to Crago. It was an obvious jibe at the Australians, insinuating that they were second-class, and the jibe, unlike the good natured quips from the other lads who had heckled the Australians, had an edge to it.

Judith was embarrassed at the arrogance of the Englishman. “William, this is one of the Australian horsemen and he was just giving me a hand with Major.”

William had looked at Crago as he had approached and could see the chemistry between Crago and Judith he was less than pleased. “Horseman?” he responded, “After that effort today maybe they should get jobs as grooms.” he laughed loudly, “Come, let’s go.”
Judith, red-faced, waved to Crago, “Thank you.” she said warmly as she was taken by the hand and whisked away by William.

Crago was quiet, though angry, as he turned to the groom, “Who’s that wombat?” “Sorry sir.”” that pompous wombat, who is he?”
“Oh sir’, that is William Forbes-Stewart, he’s the captain of the English Equestrian Team. Thanks for you help sir.”

“No worries.” replied Crago, “Let’s get these horses away and head up for a feed.”
“Oh, I won’t be eating in the house sir, I’m just staff.”
“Fair dinkum, you tell me what ya fancy and I’ll get it down to you.”
“Anything they’re having up there would be a treat sir, thank you.”

Up at the house, Crago filled a plate with everything on the table and was about to walk out the door when Roycroft approached him, “Bit hungry Brian?”
“Just lookin after a new mate, I won’t be a minute.”
Before Crago can leave, the two were joined by a small group of the hunters, including Forbes-Stewart the English captain.
A Frenchman addressed Crago and Roycroft, “Monsieurs, it is a pleasure to meet you.”
“Yeah g’day.” replied Roycrof— both the Australians shook hands with the Frenchman.
“You have come a long way, I am not familiar with your country but I hope to visit some day.” continued the Frenchman. “What nationality is the population of your country made up of?”

Forbes-Stewart joined in, still keen to belittle the Australians. His breathtaking arrogance was spurred on by his fondness for Judith and his new dislike for Crago.
“Jean-Pierre, Australia is made up of the riff-raff that my country got rid of. You see, it was a penal colony, so to answer your question – CONVICTS, that’s what their country is predominantly made up of, wouldn’t you say?”
Crago gestured to give his plate of food to Roycroft, “Hold this mate, I’ll show this prick what we are made of.”
“Not before I do.” replied Roycroft.
Horden had seen the build up and arrived just in the nick of time. “Gentlemen, wonderful ride today wasn’t it, and what beautiful countryside you have here.” Horden surreptitiously placed himself between the men, “Bill, Brian, there is someone I want you to meet. If you’ll excuse us gentlemen?”

Horden, with his hands on their backs, led Roycroft and Crago away from the confrontation.

As they departed, Forbes-Stewart whispered to one of his colleagues and the two laughed loudly.

Horden spoke softly, “Please Bill, Brian, we can’t afford any bad press – none. Do you understand? There’s too much at stake.”
Roycroft agreed, “Yeah Sam, you’re right mate, they’re just trying to get a bite.”
Crago agreed, “We’ll do our talking on the course from now on Sam, I promise mate.”

Roycroft, Crago, Judith and the groom sat in the stables on bales of hay eating from plates loaded with food from the house. Judith would not usually eat with the staff and definitely not in the stables. However, Crago had made her feel comfortable and the lack of pretentiousness in this new circle of friends was refreshing and warm.

Part 12 “Mirrabooka” horseman of the southern cross

Over the following weeks, Mairinger had the complete attention and dedication of the four men and horses. The practical lesson at the train track had done the trick, and now the men were open and ready to learn the finer points of the art of riding.

When one has been successful at what one does, it is very difficult to surrender to the idea that it may be worth changing one’s mindset in order to rise to another level, but the men had handed themselves over to their coach – it was all or nothing. Soon they began to apply the dressage lessons taught by Franz in a practical sense to their jumping and they were all becoming truly formidable, competitive riders and at this rate, they could challenge the world.

The day arrived to load the horses aboard the ship, which would transfer them to Europe for the final preparations leading into the Rome Olympics. The men and horses had been worked hard in preparation up to this point, so they could use a break and the boat trip should be just the trick.

“Won’t it be a blessing to have some time off riding?” asked Lavis, “I could use the break. How long do you reckon it’ll take to get these buggers fit again once we get there?”

Horses are prone to travel sickness and many had been lost at sea over the years. In another time, our ancestors on their battle ships, would cross tie horses and exercise them in Piaf to keep them fit and occupied.

“After a trip like this and being locked up for 10 weeks, I just hope they don’t get crook.” replied Roycroft.

As Mairinger approached, Crago made the point, “The fellas are a bit worried about how the horses will cope with the voyage Franz.”
Morgan joined in, and as always, preparation was foremost in his mind. “Will we have time to get ‘em fit once we get there? I reckon we’ll be pushing it and they reckon it’s bloody hot and humid in Rome. How do we get them to acclimatise? They’ve still got winter coats and we won’t be able to clip ‘em until we arrive.”
Mairinger, unfazed and calm addressed his Team, “Gentleman follow me, you might like to inspect the stabling area.”

The men followed Mairinger into the belly of the ship. They arrived in a cavernous area adjoining the engine room where a line of portable stables had been set up in order to house the horses. A small riding area, oval in shape about 20 x 30 yards had been erected. The heat and humidity was immediately apparent and the noise from the engines was rhythmic and punishing.

There was concern amongst the men and Morgan stepped up, “You must be joking, you can’t bring horses down here. I feel like I’m gonna pass out now. I’m happy to work, but how can we possibly work down here?”

Just standing there saw beads of sweat form on the men’s foreheads.

Morgan continued, “You tell ‘em Franz, this just isn’t on, they’ve gotta find somewhere else.”

A uniformed employee of the shipping company approached Mairinger, “I trust the conditions are as you requested Mr. Mairinger?”
Morgan starts back at him, “No, as a matter of fact, they’re not and what do you mean requested?”

As drops of sweat dripped from their confused faces, the men looked to Mairinger. Surely he had not requested this location to work the horses?

“This will be perfect thank you.” replied Mairinger.

The employee left quickly and was happy to get out of the noisy, hot environment.

By the end of this journey gentlemen, our horses and yourselves will be prepared for the worst heat and humidity that a Roman summer can offer and the roar of the crowd will seem but a whisper. The 1960 Roman Olympics will come but once. Every minute between now and when we compete at these Games, must be utilised. We have but one chance to get this right.

Morgan piped up, “So I reckon this isn’t gonna be a pleasure cruise, Franz? Suits me.”
“I’m afraid not Laurie, it will be work as usual.”
Morgan took off his shirt, leaving him only in his undershirt, “Well then, I reckon we’d better get stuck into it.”
The rest of the men followed by removing their shirts down to their singlets and proceeded to tend to their horses.
Mairinger called to them, “Splendid gentlemen, shall we say dinner tonight at six? We’ll talk then.”

The men had committed themselves to Mairinger and though they would not generally work horses in this environment, it sounded as though there was method to his madness.

Mairinger was seated at a dinner table, awaiting the arrival of the other men.

Crago is next to arrive, “Sorry we’re a bit late Franz. Mirrabooka hasn’t settled as well as Neil would have liked.”
“And Neil?” Mairinger enquired.
“Yeah, he sends his apologies Franz. He’s gonna stay with Mirrabooka tonight, just till he settles in. We told him we’d bring him down some dinner.”
The four men sit waiting to be served, all four feel a little guilty at their comfortable surroundings whilst Neil was down at the stables tending to his horse on an empty stomach. The men inspect the menu, “Grub looks good, doesn’t it fellas?” asked Morgan.
The silence was deafening.
Eventually Roycroft piped up, “You know what fellas, if you don’t mind too much, I might give it a miss.”
“You’re not hungry Bill? Is something the matter?” enquired Mairinger.
As Roycroft got up from the table he answered, “No, I’m fine Franz, I just might give it a miss tonight and get some food down to Neil. I think I might keep him company tonight.”
Morgan also came to his feet, “Hey we’re a bloody Team. You get the grub Bill, Brian and me will get our sleeping kits. If young Neil’s sleepin’ down there tonight with his horse, so will we mate. Sorry Franz, if you’ll excuse us.”
Mairinger scraped back his chair and stood, “No I won’t excuse you men, I’ll join you. As you said, we’re a Team.”

The five men, with an assortment of pillows, blankets and makeshift beds, sat around on the floor of the stable block, eating the food they had carried from the dining room. The horses stood with their heads out of their stables seeming to be joining in on the makeshift campsite.

During the period of travel on the ship, the men and horses worked with a renewed intensity. There was an air of motivation, exaggerated by the extreme conditions and the certainty that no one else would be putting in the effort that they were.

Over time, the combinations became accustomed to the difficult conditions. It was certainly a stroke of genius by Franz to continue the schooling on board the ship. The hot conditions would no doubt help with acclimatisation and this certainly would give the horses an advantage when working in the humid hot conditions in Rome. At times, the horses in the arena seemed to work to the rhythm of the pounding engines, the rhythmic commotion had become nothing but background noise and the horses worked harmoniously as though they were in the serenity of their home arena.

Work in hand is used extensively to develop greater collection of the horses and they were working well above the level required for the Dressage phase of the 3 Day Event. Mirrabooka and Neil Lavis had come along in leaps and bounds and Franz could see that with work and time, they could make a formidable combination, even at Grand Prix level.

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The voyage was finally over with the horses arriving in England. In the unloading process, it could be seen that they were supremely fit and keen to get out and stretch their legs in a more natural environment. This was a delicate time, as an injury now could derail the entire effort. Morgan was supervising the operations of disembarkation and was bordering on rude with his direction to the dockworkers. The first horse on dock and the last horse on deck would be the most difficult, as for a short period, each horse would be left alone.

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Roycroft’s horse, Sabre, was first to be unloaded and was agitated and whinnied loudly. However, Bill with his confident handling, controlled the situation until the next stable mate joined him on dry land. Mirrabooka was the last to disembark and it didn’t come as much of a shock, that as long as his man Neil was with him, he remained calm and relaxed. The job was complete and the men were very relieved.

Sam Horden had arrived to meet the men and their precious cargo. “Welcome to England gentleman, I trust you have had a relaxing journey, recharged the batteries?”
Roycroft responded tongue in cheek, “Yeah, if you reckon riding a horse in the pit of hell is restful, then we’ve had a ball.”
Horden continued, “Well that’s all over now gentlemen, I hope you haven’t been too hard on them Franz. Anyway, you have all been invited to a fox hunt at the Duke of Doncaster’s country estate, it will give the horses a chance to have a stretch and you fellows to get a little fresh air.”
“Thank Christ” exclaimed Lavis, “that fella of mine is jumping out of his skin.”
Mairinger was quick to respond, “I’m sorry Sam, that is out of the question, these horses have not galloped in 10 weeks, to take them on a hunt would be tempting disaster. There will be no hunt.”
Horden replied, “I don’t think you understand Franz, this is a political situation. We are in England with the Duke’s support and he has influenced the Australian Olympic Committee quite a bit. We can’t afford to offend him.
“I’m sorry Sam, but I am responsible for the performance of this Team – there will be no hunt.”
Horden continued with an air of authority, “Franz, without the Duke, there would be no Team. I don’t think you realise how hard it has been to get us here, they’d much rather be spending the money on runners or swimmers – certain medalists.”

Franz was not impressed at the pressure being applied; after all, he had only the welfare of the horses in mind.

Morgan is infuriated by the insinuation that the Equestrian Team don’t have just as good a chance as any other Australian competitor at taking a medal. “You can tell the Olympic Committee that when we get our medals, we will shove them up …” Horden quickly interjects, “No one is saying you can’t do it Laurie. I understand the preparation that has gone in but the expense cannot be disregarded and any support we can get is very important.”

Mairinger realised there would need to be a compromise. He has been with Horden since before the first Team and is acutely aware of the personal effort and expense Sam had put into the project. “Very well, we will attend the hunt, but no horse will gallop and we will jump no more than a hay bail.”

“Thanks Franz, I would never doubt your judgment all we need to do is turn up.”

For the competitive Australian riders and horses, just turning up would be more of a challenge than riding flat out. It would be a day for control and discipline.

Part 11 “Mirrabooka” horseman of the southern cross

The four competitors and Mairinger stood at the side of an arena. Just released from his stable, a horse runs free. He is full of beans and exploded towards the other end of the arena at full gallop. At the last moment, he screams to a halt, turns on his hindquarters and kicks out high with both back legs. Two or three airborne bucks and he returns down the arena in a beautiful extended trot, neck arched, tail in the air and his front feet flick out full of the joy and beauty of movement that only a horse can produce.

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“Have you ever seen a cow or a pig exhibit this kind of expression?” questions Mairinger. “We are blessed to be involved with such majestic creatures, they were truly created as a gift to mankind. Watch him move and embed that vision in your mind. Our job, when riding, is to produce as close as possible to what the horse can do without our clumsy weight upon his back. Communicate clearly and let him do what he does naturally, the horse is designed to go forward, all of his muscles have been designed for this purpose, so we must never interfere with the natural forward desire. Horses are not designed to carry weight that was not what nature intended, they were designed to eat grass and go forward when required. We must help them use their muscles designed only for forward movement, to carry weight, our weight, which can be 25% of their total body weight. If you weigh 10 stone, place a young child on your back, if he sits still you can run quite comfortably but if he moves around or sits awkwardly to one side you will struggle to walk in a straight line. Why would it be different to the horse? We must sit still and balanced, that is all. Once he is educated and strong, we sit still and allow him to look like that.” Mairinger looks back to the horse in the arena, the horse pulls to a perfect square halt. “Glorious to behold.”

The men are certain they know how to ride. They are tough and brave and no obstacles will stop them or their horses, but after learning of Mairinger’s prowess at the Spanish Riding School, they realise is there much more to be learned. No doubt there is, Crago had dealt with Mairinger for four years now and he was acutely aware of the technicalities to which they would be exposed during the pre-departure training camp. Lavis had spent some time with Mairinger and he had sniffed the brilliance of the man and was hungry to learn as much as he possibly could. Roycroft and Morgan however, were a different story. Morgan was supremely confident in his abilities, as he had done very well, and though he appreciated Mairinger’s past and reputation, it would take some convincing to get him to change the way he did things. Roycroft was book-educated on dressage and he could quote chapter and verse in what the books said and had been successful enough to make the Team, but now he would need to buy into the fact that Franz could have written the book from which he had learnt.

Mairinger has been quiet about the weaknesses of the Team’s dressage. He could have been scathing on many occasions and at times he had cringed inside with the clumsiness of most of their riding.

Now there was no point in being negative, he must get the message across diplomatically, but at all costs, he must get it across.

The men had spent many hours during the past week in the dressage arena and were becoming bored with Franz’s continual consolidation of the absolute basics.
Morgan piped up, “Franz, when can we do some more jumping? I’m getting sick of this “sausage”.
“Sausage?” enquired Roycroft.
“Yeah, sausage dressage. All the same, I’ve got the thing bent around my leg. It’s like sitting on a sausage.”
The men, including Mairinger, had a good laugh at Morgan’s comment.
“Gentleman”, Mairinger ended the laughter, “You all jump very well, and your horses are sufficiently fit at this stage, so we must work on our weaknesses, not our strengths. The strengths, I have no doubt, will look after themselves, but if we are not in touch with the other competitors after the dressage faze, then we are not in the competition.”
Roycroft spoke out, “Franz, I’ve read all this and I get it that you put the horse to the bit, not the bit to the horse, but in all honesty, how can I control the horse if I don’t pull on the reins? Surely that’s how you ride, left rein to go left right rein to go right.”
Mairinger was inwardly disappointed but managed to control his emotions. “Bill, I had hoped that I had passed the message on better and I am at fault if I have not. Only the best riders grasp the subtle difference between riding and holding. 95% of riders will never truly get it in their entire riding lives, rarely do any of that 95% win medals at the Olympics, I doubt if ever.”
Roycroft continued, “I can’t spell Franz, I’m a shocker and at my age I don’t think I’m gonna change that much, I can ride, I’ve gotten here. Do you really think I can or should I change?
Mairinger, though exasperated, continued to try to get his message across. He was acutely aware that riders could only achieve what he was after when they were ready; mentally, emotionally and physically. With adequate experience, all of these men had the latter two elements, but needed to release mentally. Crago and Lavis were well on the way.
Morgan now entered the discussion, “Franz, you keep telling us to keep the horse under our weight how can he be anywhere else? I’m with Bill, too much airy-fairy stuff, we need to do some practical riding.”
Mairinger knew when training horses or men, that sometimes you needed to back off and let them digest what it was that you had been schooling them on.
“Maybe you are right”, Mairinger conceded, “Let’s go for a ride in the country-side and let us and the horses rest our weary minds.”

Sometime later, the men were riding across a green field whilst discussing the ins and outs of what Franz had been trying to get across to them.

Morgan and Roycroft grasped the concept, but continued to argue for more practical riding instruction as they were dubious of Franz’s flowery descriptions of how ‘with such light highly refined aids’ they could get a horse to behave better than they could with a quick jab in the mouth.

Their ride approached a train line. To their left, the tracks disappeared into a cutting in the side of a rocky hill. Franz, looking at his watch, stopped his horse and turned to address the other riders. As he did so, the loud rumbling of a locomotive could be heard echoing out of the cutting. Any second now and a train would be amongst them. As the train came closer, the horses became agitated and the men were now struggling to keep them under control. Still, Mairinger’s horse, though alert, stood reasonably quietly and he stepped ever so slightly left and right, but Mairinger, with a slight adjustment of his seat, kept the horse in place.

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The driver of the train, upon seeing the men on horseback, and as was the rule, sounded the horn to warn of his approach. The Team of four horses, now panicked and scattered in all directions, with the men urging them with their voices to “stand up, stand” or “steady mate, steady” but to no avail. The horse’s broke and one or two travelled more than 65 feet before the riders could arrest their disobedience. The men gathered their horses as best they could, cursing the train and the driver as they faced back toward Mairinger. They were amazed and dumb-founded to see him and his horse still in their original position. The horse was now well and truly up but held under Mairinger’s position. Mairinger’s hands were still as was his entire being. There seemed to be no effort, but still, the horse, as agitated as the others, stood his ground. The train was now directly adjacent to Mairinger and the other horses spun and sidestepped with the men struggling to hold them anywhere near the train. At the height of the commotion, and in clear view of the other men, Mairinger dropped his reins. Surely now the horse would bolt. But no, his demeanour did not settle, however, he remained steadfast under the calmly seated Franz Mairinger. Greatness raised its head, the artistry combined with practicality, with the train disappearing into the distance and the Team returned to Mairinger.

The lesson has been taught; from this moment forward, Mairinger had the complete belief of all of the men.

It had become apparent that dressage/sausage was much more than something you did in an arena.

No one would again question the importance of Franz’s methods. At one point, dressage, as it was called, was practiced for the purpose of warfare; it was the difference between losing, or not losing, your head. The men were now switched on to the importance placed on it by Franz, the great man.

A diamond in the rough. Finding the hidden horseman

 

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When I first started working with the inmates at St Heliers prison, I would go up for a week at a time in order to train the inmates in the skills required for them to do their part in the retraining of the ex-racehorses from the Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Trust. Horses donated to the Trust, go to St Heliers to let down before we commence working them. Most racehorses, when they leave the track, have had no socialisation since they left their mums as foals. Generally, for most, if not all of their lives, they are wrapped in cotton wool, stabled and spelled in individual yards so they don’t get hurt. Because of this, they miss out on learning the critical social skills required to be a horse. Imagine keeping a kid in an isolated room, sometimes letting him see other kids, but not allowing him to play, touch or interact. You feed him what he needs, you keep him immaculately cleaned and healthy in the body, lock him up from say, one until twelve years of age, give him very little education and no communication skills and then send him to high school. The result would be terrible for the kid. Well that’s where a racehorse often is at the end of his racing days. At St Heliers, we have big paddocks where we put five or six horses in together, often with a horse that has already been socialised or better still, an old tough draught horse. Let the old fella teach the young fellas how it’s done.

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Once they have had six months of lessons from the other horses and time to let down from racing, the inmates start to work with them. The inmates do around six weeks with each horse; natural horsemanship for want of a better word. Work in hand and lunging usually, no riding. The inmates do courses at the local TAFE in horse management, stable maintenance, farriery etc. In the first group of inmates I was involved with, there was a guy named Digger. Digger was a nice bloke, very polite and respectful – a fair effort when you consider I am an ex-copper. Digger was there when I gave all of the boys as a group, a lecture on what we do, how we do it and what was expected of them. Digger was quiet when I started to work hands-on with the horses. He stood back and carefully watched what I was doing and unlike some of the other boys, he wasn’t going to tell me what he knew and what he had done. Digger was fit with a hard look about him, and between you and me, about 10 kgs lighter than he is now. He seemed to have respect around the place, he was a trainer who worked out in the gym, did some boxing, and was always eating an egg to get his protein intake up. Gradually I got to work with all of the guys and Digger was one of the last. I asked him what he knew about horses and he told me he had done a bit with them as a kid. So Digger comes into the round yard with a horse they had christened Cranky. Now I knew Cranky’s reputation, the inmates didn’t know that as a racehorse, he was known as Evil. Cranky had his ears back constantly whenever a person was around and he would turn his backside to you if you went near him. He had bitten one inmate on the head, causing a nasty gash and scaring him out of the program. Digger was in the round yard working with Cranky under my instruction. He had chosen Cranky as his horse as he knew he had issues and had felt sorry for him. We were in the yard working on getting Cranky to lunge in a halter; he kept stopping and presenting his backside to Digger. Now Digger was very passive towards the horse and he needed some assertiveness. Eventually, with a bit of instruction, Cranky was lunging around the yard but quickly knocked up and decided he had had enough so he put the breaks on and was going nowhere. Very passively, Digger tried to encourage him forward, I gave him the spiel, be as firm as you need to be but as soft as you can be. Digger was too soft, not what you would expect for a tough bloke who had been in and out of prison all his life. I tried to talk him into a little more assertiveness, but he just wasn’t getting a result. After a while of ignoring Digger’s efforts to get him to go forward, Cranky decided to back up. Well that was it! Digger flogged him with the lunge whip and Cranky surged forward out of control, “Steady mate, steady.” I called to Digger, “Whoa, whoa.” I preceded to explain that there are a lot of grey areas between black and white and you need to just do what needs to be done, not over do it. Digger was red faced, fired up and a little embarrassed. In jail, you can’t let anyone get on top of you. This was the issue I assumed, conditioned reflex when someone is having a go at you, attack is the best line of defence. I went back to the hotel that night and couldn’t get that episode out of my mind. Digger had a very good feel and he could make a horseman but he needed to learn to control his emotions. The more I thought about it, the more I thought to myself, ‘I bet this is the way he leads his life. It’s probably why he finished up in jail.’ The next morning at the prison, I had decided that Digger could make a horseman and I was going to do my best to make it happen. Digger came up to me at the beginning of the day while I was standing by myself and said, “You know what happened yesterday? That’s how I live my life, that’s how I got here.” Who would have thought?…. We sat down and talked about him and where he had come from and Digger started to loosen up. He had a long-term girlfriend, whom he was loyal and seriously committed to and they had a son. At some stage, Digger’s good mates had started to warn Digger that they felt his misses was up to something shifty. Initially they didn’t go into detail, but told him to keep an eye on things. Digger wasn’t concerned, as he couldn’t see any issues and life went on. A mate started to warn him that another mate may be making some moves on his girl and Digger wouldn’t have it, “He is a good mate, he wouldn’t do that to me.” And after all, he trusted his girl. His mates kept giving him the heads up but he didn’t believe it and didn’t want to believe it and he did nothing proactive, didn’t raise it and went on with his life. One night his girl was staying away from home, they had been having a few issues, but she had sworn there was no-one else. Early in the morning, a mate turned up at Digger’s house and forced him to get into his car, “You need to see this.” he said. He drove Digger to where his girl was staying and he went into the house and saw his mate’s wallet on the table. He then found his wife in bed with his best mate, All his denial became an uncontrollable rage and basically he flogged the guy to within and inch of his life. Digger got eight years for the assault, which they also called a home invasion. Some would say, “There but for the grace of God go I.” The reality of the situation was that had Digger taken some action earlier, instead of doubting the honesty of his mates, he would probably not be in jail. Sure the relationship might have been over, but he would be out on the street. In a much smaller way, this is what Digger had done with the horse the day before. Digger told me he had worked as a stockman in the Northern Territory and Western Australia, “The things I have seen done to horses I won’t even tell you about, but I always believed there was a better way. I like what you do and I want to learn how to do it.” he said. Digger had committed and I could tell that his loyalty would not allow him to let the horses, or me, down. He decided to stick with Cranky and committed to him as well. Long before I had turned up, even though Cranky had some bad traits, Digger believed there was good in him and he was going to prove it to everyone. It was about a month when I returned to the prison for my next visit and I was working in the yard with a horse. Digger was standing watching from outside, with a horse standing quietly beside him with its head basically resting on Digger’s shoulder.

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Eventually, my focus went from the horse I was working on to Digger. “That’s not Cranky?” I enquired. “Yep,” came the reply with a cheeky proud smile, “that’s him.” “No way!” I replied in awe, “I can’t believe it!” This guy was a horseman, some people are born with it. Digger had been taken off track by outside influences and he would always have to control his temper, but he had what it took, he could get inside a horse’s head. Digger became the backbone of the program in prison, as he was passionate and committed.

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I decided that when he got out, I would employ him immediately, but I hadn’t seen him ride. When Digger had about two months to go on his sentence, I turned up with a saddle. “I want to see you ride.” I said. He was apprehensive about getting into a dressage saddle as he was used to a big western or stock job. Digger had become an expert at working in hand and I knew all he needed was to learn to sit still and he would ride as good as anyone. I put him up on Cranky, “Okay, put your legs here, sit up straight, relax your shoulders.” he did this well, “Now just do the same things you have been doing on the ground.” Cranky rounded into a nice frame, he bent calmly around Digger’s inside leg and walked off in a dressage frame. By the end of the lesson, Digger and Cranky could have won a preliminary dressage test – really! This was the horse’s first ride off the track and Digger’s first time in a dressage saddle and I couldn’t have been prouder. Digger now had two months to work on his riding before he would be released. I left Cranky with him, I couldn’t have done a better job myself so why would I take the horse away? Digger came to work with us at the TRT.

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                                                    Digger part of the team

On his first day, we did an exhibition at Equitana Sydney, what a culture shock. From the prison with a few inmates, all just existing from day to day, to assisting in front of a crowd of hundreds in a team that was earning respect. Digger took it in his stride and I think he felt he had arrived where he needed to be. Digger worked with us for two years, training dozens of horses.

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                            Digger re trained dozens of ex racehorses with the TRT

He finished Cranky’s training and we found him very good home. Digger had completed a farrier’s course in prison therefore saving us tens of thousands in shoeing costs. Unfortunately, we don’t pay that well.

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                                       Cranky once his retraining was complete

Digger had a new girlfriend who had a couple of kids. She had been the wife of a mate whom he was looking after, who had died of cancer. She was a great lady and really good for Digger, eventually one thing led to another and they became a couple. Digger was being loyal to his mate in looking after his wife and kids and she had a good man. They had a child and eventually Digger had to move on. He needed to make the money he could, working for himself. He had given me two good years on the outside and became a great mate.

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Digger would do anything for me as I would for him. I wished him all the best and off he went, he now works for himself as a farrier and horse trainer. Recently he helped me out at a course for soldiers coming home from conflict with PTSD, I can’t tell you how proud I was of him. He was a teacher and I heard him give the same advice that I had given him, “Be as firm as you need to be, but as soft as you can be.”

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                               Digger up the front with the soldiers he is a teacher