Back in Sydney, Samuel Horden had just received the news of the success at Badminton. He was beaming as all their hard work and stress was coming to fruition and he could feel the joy.
All there was to do now was to return to Rome and watch as the final act unfolded. His car was packed for he and his wife to leave for the airport. It would be a long trip and the anticipation was killing him.
As they drove to the airport, they chatted about the trip ahead. Suddenly and without warning, a tyre burst and the car swerved violently despite Horden’s attempts to correct it. It was now sideways, the wheel dug into the road and the car flipped, rolling several times with its occupants flung about inside the vehicle like clothes in a washing machine. There were no seatbelts in 1960 and as the vehicle finally came to a halt, all was silent and that is how it would stay.
Io The men arrived back to their hotel after the trip to Vienna and the Spanish Riding School. Immediately, Franz was handed a telegram. “An urgent wire from Australia.”
Crago comments “Surely after Badminton it’s not those twits whingin’ about our funding again”.
Mairinger opened the envelope and with a blank expression, fell back onto a chair.
In a low tone, the wind taken out of him, he whispered, “It’s Sam Horden. He’s been killed”.
Morgan took the envelope from Mairinger. The rest of the Team appeared to be in shock, however Morgan, in typical response, is angered. “He died in a car accident, on the way to the airport. Those bastards, if it wasn’t for the tight-arse Olympic mob he wouldn’t have had to go home cap in hand.” Morgan screwed up the telegram and threw it on the table, “If it wasn’t for Sam we wouldn’t have come this far. I’ll show ‘em we’re worth the money.”
He went to leave.
Crago tries to stop him, “Where are you going?”
“My horse needs some more work, I’ll give them some gold for their investment.”
Lavis with a tear in his eye, “I’m with you, I think it’s time to ride Mirrabooka.”
Roycroft and Crago nod to each other and the Team walk out.
Mairinger calls to Gino as they prepare to leave, “We’ll need a lift Gino and we may need you to work back.”
“It would be an honour sir.”
At the stables, Lavis mounted Mirrabooka for the first time in six weeks, he had trotted up well but how would he be under saddle? Like never a day had been lost, he walked then trotted off with no sign of lameness. Neil had done all he could and it appeared that Mirrabooka had responded. Neil gave him a light workout and then treated his fetlock. The real test would come with his first jumping efforts.
The other men were riding, each working silently on their own. They owed so much to Samuel Horden; this was his baby. They worked on into the darkness their resolve once again strengthened by adversity. They must now knuckle down and finish the job that Sam had started five years earlier.
The Australians were standing on the Olympic cross-country course. They were in the company of all the other teams that were to compete at the Games. An official course walk was being conducted by the Olympic Officials and the Olympic Course Builder was addressing the group.
He had been invited to point out a few issues on the course in order to reduce confusion and avoid injury to horse and rider. “Gentlemen, this course is a highly technical one. Due to the hot conditions I would advise caution, avoid pushing your horses too hard. There are a number of potentially dangerous points that I will bring to your attention as we progress around the course.
The riders and coaches were measuring and pacing out the striding of the various combinations of jumps. They inspected the obstacles from various angles and contemplated the various approach options available.
The jump complexes were very impressive and beautifully built, with the course winding through picturesque forests and open parklands. At one point, the entire group was stopped, again being addressed by the Course Builder. To their right was a steep cliff-like drop off of about 40 metres. It was heavily wooded and apparently impassable.
The Course Builder indicated towards the cliff, “Gentlemen, this is one of the more dangerous sections of the course which I mentioned earlier. The edges of this ravine are unstable. You will be required to ride out in that direction.” He indicated forward along the top of the ravine, where a safe, wide track stretched out for about 300 metres in front of the group. “At the end of this track you will make a U turn to the right which will bring you back onto the lower section of the course.” He pointed down the ravine through the trees where jumps could be seen in the distance. “Of course you can take this option.” He then indicated down the treacherous looking cliff, which was the beginning of the near vertical face to the right. The group of riders and officials laughed heartily at this apparently ridiculous suggestion and continued on with the inspection of the course.
The course inspection was complete and the various teams and coaches were milling around discussing various technical points in relation to the course.
Mairinger was caught up in an indepth conversation with some of the other team coaches. “In my opinion this course is very poorly designed, it is not sympathetic to the horse after 31 jumps, to ask the biggest questions of horse and rider at 32, 33 and 34. In this heat, mark my words; people and horses will be injured. I just hope no one is.”
Roycroft approached Mairinger, “Franz, we’re just off to walk the course backwards.”
“Is there a problem Bill?”
“No, it’s just that old bushy thing, you know, check the lay of the land. We’re not leaving a stone unturned for this one. We’ll see you back at the hotel.”
Mairinger had become accustomed to this ritual of walking the course backward, which had worked well throughout their campaign, today was not the day to change a winning routine.
The Australians walked the course in reverse and there were no other competitors to be seen. As they retraced their tracks, they were stopped by the sound of a strange clanging noise. An old Italian man appeared from behind a line of bushes. He was on his return from a local market leading his donkey, which was laden down with an assortment of pots and pans. The old man acknowledged the Australians with a tip of his hat and continued across the course in front of them.
To the astonishment of the Australians, he proceeded to the previously uncontemplated ravine where he and his donkey were seen to scramble down the steep face, at times the donkey sat on his backside in order to negotiate the sheer descent to the lower section of the course where he then continued on his way.
The Australians had watched this in silence. Lavis, looked down the face of the ravine, and at the expense of the donkey man, put on a deep theatrical voice and began to recite a line from the famous poem by Banjo Patterson, The Man from Snowy River.
“But the man from Snowy River let his pony have its head and he race him down the mountain like a torrent down its bed.”
Roycroft not be outdone, “And he sent the flint stones flying, but the pony kept his feet.”
Then Morgan added “He never drew the bridle ‘till he landed safe and sound at the bottom of that terrible descent.”
The men smiled and laughed and watched as the old man and the donkey continued on their way and Roycroft commented admirably, “Crazy old bastard. Where there is a will there is a way.”
And with that, the Australians continued walking the course.