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.

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