For the entire lead up to the Games, Neale Lavis now worked his reserve horse as well as putting in many hours with his mate, Mirrabooka. Neale was determined to give his horse every chance, they started as a combination and he would do everything in his power to finish as a combination, for without Mirrabooka, he would very likely not be here.
Twice a day the pair walked miles and miles in the Roman summer. Swimming at midday then icing and bandaging the affected leg as often as possible. Horses can be kept fit with light work. The great Archer walked from Sydney to Melbourne and went on to win the first Melbourne Cup. Truth be known, by the time the Games started, Neale and Mirrabooka would have done the equivalent walk several times over.
The Team arrived in Rome to accommodation that had been arranged without much thought, by the Olympic Committee. Yes the men were in Rome, but the horses were not.
Morgan, as always, was keen to get to work and directed his question to Gino, the Team’s newly appointed driver. “Let’s get these bags away and get down to the horses. Gino can you be ready to go in 10 minutes?”
“No, no, sorry sir, I finish at six, my wife, you understand.”
Morgan looked at his watch, “It’s only 3 o’clock.”
Gino explained “Yes sir, two hours to the stable and two hours back, my wife she would kill me.”
Morgan was incensed, “Two hours? Where are these bloody stables?”
“Through the traffic at this time sir, it is very difficult.”
Morgan was not happy, “This is no good, we have to move. We can’t be expected to travel that distance twice a day.”
Crago tried to settle the situation, “Settle down, we’ll sort it out, just take a rest from the horses for a while. We’ll unpack and find ourselves a nice cold beer and sort it out when Franz gets here.”
Gino was quick to add, “Yes my cousin has a bar nearby, I can take you.”
Morgan would not rest until the situation was settled, “Time will be of the essence, four hours travel and maybe twice a day is ridiculous.”
Some hours later at a local bar, Crago had managed to get involved in a game of cards with a group of locals. Morgan had not been able to relax and had driven the rest of them mad with his obsession with the distance to the horses.
Crago looked to the clock on the wall, it was nearly 7pm. “Hey Gino, I thought you had to be home by six?”
Gino was looking worse for wear for he had overindulged in the vino and was chatting loudly with his cousin.
Mairinger finally arrived and approached the table where the men were sitting.
Morgan was straight into it, “So what’s the go Franz? Are you gonna get us moved? We can’t possibly travel that far twice a day to work the horses, we’ll be shattered.”
Mairinger knew Morgan’s commitment was bordering on obsessive but the news was not good, “This is it Laurie, it appears the accommodation around the stables is completely booked out by the other Teams and their supporters. I don’t think that they even expected us to show.”
Roycroft had the same thoughts as Morgan, “More likely they’re trying to throw a spanner in the works after we kicked their arses at Badminton.”
Morgan stuck to the subject, “If you can’t change it I’ll be sleeping at the stables, they’re not going to get the edge on me.”
Mairinger responded, “Possibly Sam can sort something out when he arrives from Australia, but let me assure you gentlemen, he has his hands full with trying to secure funding to house our horses, let alone us. Anyway, it is just one more hurdle to clear.”
Raising his glass, Mairinger toasts, “We have arrived; to Olympic glory.”
The men, though concerned, raised their glasses in toast.
In the background a large Italian women entered the room looking as agitated as
Crago, noticing the women, raised his glass again, “To Gino.”
Gino, unaware of the arrival of his wife, raised his glass, “Si Si, to Gino.”
The next morning, the men were waiting at the front of their hotel with Morgan checking his watch. “He should have been here an hour ago, is this going to be on every day?”
Gino pulled his car up at the front of the hotel, looking disheveled and sporting a nasty black eye. “I’m very sorry gentleman, this is Rome traffic.”
Crago joked, “Bit of trouble with the missus Gino?”
Gino smiled sheepishly, “Si.”
Gino was struggling to drive through the crazy Roman traffic. His driving was erratic and he regularly leant out the window to yell abuse at other motorists and they in turn replied in similar fashion.
The car became caught in a gridlock, the men became agitated and Morgan could hardly contain himself.
As they passed a large park, Mairinger noticed athletes in training. “Gino, what direction are the stables?”
“Across there sir.” Gino pointed across the park. “Five kilometres, but it will take an hour to drive around sir. This is a big park and the traffic is always like this.”
Mairinger turned from the front seat to address the men.
Morgan beats him to it, “I’m way ahead of you Franz. Get you shirts off boys, we’re going for a run.”
The men stripped down to their undershirts and started out across the park.
This became part of their daily routine. Once again, they had turned adversity into opportunity, for they used the time to work on their fitness, shed a few pounds and acclimatised further to the hot, humid conditions. They knew that extra personal fitness would give them an edge.
Lavis, already very fit from his daily work with Mirrabooka commented, “What’s another five miles a day?”
Over the coming weeks, the work load was extraordinary with two trips a day to the stables, running at least once, sometimes twice across the park, intense lessons with Franz on all facets of their riding and gallop work. On top of this, Neale must walk, swim and treat Mirrabooka.
How long could they maintain this pressure? Morgan thrived on it, the harder the better. The pressure drove him on and he drove the Team. Franz could not believe the commitment from this man; he was a machine. Could the rest of them keep up with Morgan’s ever-increasing pace and intensity?
Franz felt that he needed to now hold the men back slightly, lest they burnout before the main event.
One afternoon close to the time of competition, Mairinger had the Team gathered close together in the dining room of the Olympic Village. “Gentlemen, I have decided that we will give the horses a few days off. We will be going on a field trip. A rest will be good for the horses and good for us.”
An overnight train trip saw the men arrive in the city of Vienna. It was pre rush hour in the morning, and though the city was awakening, there was still an air of quietness in the empty streets and alleyways. They walked as a group through cobblestoned streets, following Franz who obviously knew his way around the city. The sun was low in the sky, but already it was apparent that the coming day would be spectacular. The sky was blue and the air crisp and fresh. The men walked along a narrow alleyway with shops on either side. There was a sense that this street, though every bit a part of this thriving modern city would have changed little since the days of Mozart. The aura and evidence of history was all about them.
On reaching the end of the street, they turned left and were struck by the sudden splendor of what lay before them. In a massive open square sat the forecourt of a beautiful Baroque Palace, directly in front of them stood a dazzling white building, which housed the Spanish Riding School. The building appeared to be shrouded in a heavenly glow as the bright morning sun struck its majestic domes and statues that adorned the forecourt.
With his chest heaving with pride, Mairinger spoke reverently, “Gentleman, The Spanish Riding School.”
They stood in silent contemplation at the sight before them. The grandeur and splendor of the Baroque architecture amazed the Australians.
Lavis broke the spell, “My God Franz, this is beautiful.”
Roycroft added, “All this for a riding school?”
Mairinger replied, “Trust me Bill, this is more than just a riding school.”
Lavis remarked, ” Sam should be here for this, he loves all this historical stuff.”
As the Team arrived at the front of the Palace, they were approached by a delegation of personnel from the School. They were all in full uniform and the man who was obviously in charge, greeted Franz and was elated to see him and did not try to hide his deep respect as they chatted away in Austrian like two long lost brothers.
“Forgive my lack of manner, Hans,” said Franz. “I would like to introduce to you the Australian Three Day Event Team, and gentlemen, this is Riding Master Hans Schuster, who is possibly the greatest horseman you will ever meet.”
Schuster countered the compliment, “Ah, but Franz, they have already met that man.”
Mairinger added, “Enough of the mutual admiration, I trust the School is flourishing?”
“It has been a time of rebuilding and we are happy with the progress. But enough, come, see for yourself. We have organised a special showing for you and your friends, I will let you be the judge.”
The Team was led into the building and was seated in the Royal Box in the beautiful Riding Hall. They were in awe of their surroundings. Music began to play as the famous Quadrille of the School began their performance on the incredible Lipizzaner stallions, topped off with a demonstration of the amazing high school movements of Airs Above the Ground.
During the demonstration, Mairinger observed, “Two species merge as one.”
The riders rode the stallions forward and halted in a salute to Mairinger. He rose in recognition with a tear in his eye. The awestruck Australians stood beside Mairinger. This experience had been a lesson in history, history of equestrianism and also a history of Franz. He was a great man, revered by the most famous riding establishment in the world.
On the way back to Rome, the men quietly contemplated where they have come from, their fortune at being trained by such a great man and the fast approaching Games. What an adventure they had had to this point.