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.

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