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
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.