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.
“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”.
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.
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.
“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.