Part 21 “Mirrabooka” horseman of the southern cross.

It was the last day of competition and all that stood between the Australians and the Team Medal were a dozen or so flimsy show jumps. Not quite. Bill Roycroft will ride for Team Gold with a broken collarbone and ribs and still shaky from a severe concussion which had occurred just the previous day.

Everything has brought them to this point, Morgan and Lavis, should they ride clear, will take medals. Crago, though out of the competition, has paved their way. Should the Team take a medal, Crago will not be given one as only the top three scores are taken into consideration. He has resolved himself to this and is comforted by his new love, Judith, who has hardly left his side since they met. He has found peace and feels every bit as involved and part of the Team as the other men.

Though the door is only slightly ajar, it is still open. If by some miracle Bill Roycroft can get around the course in one piece, the Team Medal is on the table. The chances of Bill riding an Olympic show jumping course, one handed or even making it around, are shaky to say the least. The possibility of him going clear and putting the Australians into Gold Medal position is hardly worth contemplating, that is by everyone but Bill Roycroft. Bill hasn’t come this far not to give his best. Since leaving the hospital, he has been nothing but positive. For anyone who has ever broken a collarbone and or ribs, you will be acutely aware of the pain on the second day. Bill has not mentioned it once. He has supreme focus. There is little doubt Morgan on Salad Days and Lavis on Mirrabooka will perform, they dominated competition the previous day.

The equestrian world is in shock at the supremacy of the Australian riders and Thoroughbred horses, the daring bravery of Crago and Sabre, the sublime cross-county rounds of Morgan and Lavis and the tenacity and dedication of Roycroft on Our Solo to finish the cross-country course over the most difficult combinations, after such a terrible fall. At this point, the world is not aware that Bill, with all his injuries, has left the hospital and will ride in the show jumping.

The Australian Thoroughbred, what an awesome show of supremacy from a much-maligned breed. For the rest of the world, he is a racehorse. For Australia, he is our horse. 200 years ago some of the first horses off the ships were Thoroughbreds; they are as much a part of modern Australian history as the Convicts. Like the Convicts, they were taken from their native lands and brought to a tough, harsh world, where they needed to turn their hand to whatever was put in front of them in order to survive.

Crossed with other breeds to produce the Waler and Australian Stock Horse, they took Australia to war, opened up the inland, and helped build the agricultural wealth of the young country. Now they would stamp their athletic prowess and versatility on the equestrian world.

In perfect clear rounds, as expected, Laurie Morgan on Salad Days has taken the Individual Gold Medal. Neale Lavis on Mirrabooka has taken the Silver.

The job has been done and the world will take notice. Sam Horden’s dream has been realised and Franz Mairinger will be recognised as one of the greatest equestrian coaches.

The announcers have informed the crowd that Bill Roycroft will ride, what a credit to a great man. No one expects him to more than turn up, but the crowd and his mates will show their admiration for the effort, for only hours ago he had left hospital against the instructions of his doctors.

In the warm-up area, Roycroft mounts Our Solo. He is sporting a black eye and a grazed face along with his left arm cradled in a sling.

The Australians are gathered around him. Crago is proud of Bill and his efforts to do his best for their Team, “Whatever happens Bill, we’ve done alright for a pack of bushies.”
“Yeah, too right mate.”

Bill Roycroft was swept up in the moment, his good mate, Laurie Morgan, had just won a Gold Medal and his Teammate Neale Lavis, had won Silver. The adrenaline surges through his veins. Regardless of his situation and his injuries, he is a winner and will strive to win.

As Roycroft leaves the warm-up area, he turns to Crago with a defiant, confidant look, “Hey mate, you can put your house on me, ‘never a backward step’.”

Roycroft enters the arena, time slows down; he is a gladiator about to put his body on the line.
For him, there is no crowd, just noise and a blur of movement. Our Solo is with him and is unaware that Bill is not at his best. He is obedient and bold, his nostrils flare and his ears prick. He steps short and sharp, his foot speed is there to be seen, he knows what is ahead and this is his day.

The Commentator booms, “A standing ovation for the Australian, Bill Roycroft on his mount, Our Solo.”

A second Commentator adds, “Yes, and incredibly, should he manage to ride a clear round, Australia will take the Team Gold.”

Roycroft starts on the course. He is riding one-handed, his broken shoulder in a sling to prevent movement and to discourage any attempt to use it. Solo goes to work, basically he is on his own, he rattles numerous fences, but none fall.

Roycroft is in terrible pain and is fairly unstable on his horse as he steers the course one-handed. The crowd is in quiet awe and ride each effort with Roycroft and Solo as they struggle stoically around the course.

They have done incredibly, on numerous occasions one was certain that rails would fall when they were struck by Solo, but somehow they stayed in place. Lavis observed, “Is Sam Horden holding those poles in the cups?”

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The crowd is on the edge of their seats. Is the impossible about to happen? The tension has built with every cleared jump. The Australians are in tears, only men that have fought together in the trenches or competed in team sport at the highest level can feel the special love they have for their battling mate at this precise moment.

As Roycroft approaches the last combination, blood can be seen seeping through his shirt. He appears weary and in danger of collapsing. He refocuses and Solo moves in to attack the triple combination. Solo jumps the first element well but on landing, Roycroft loses his balance. Solo jumps the second awkwardly; only one more rail stands between the Australians and Team Gold.

The take off for the third element is too early, Solo twists his body in the air to avoid contact with the rail and as he clears it, his hind legs strike the rail. It shudders and bounces, high enough for it to fall to the ground. However, on this occasion, it miraculously lands back in the cup.

The crowd erupts and jumps to their feet as one. The Australians embrace, bursting with pride. With excitement and disbelief, the Commentator calls the moment, “They’ve done it! Who would have believed it?! In only their second Olympics, Team Gold to the Australians! One of the greatest and bravest things I have ever seen. Not only that, Gold and Silver in the individual standings to Morgan and Lavis.”

Roycroft manages a smile; he would salute if he had another hand. No one could be more impressed with his achievement. It is truly one of the greatest moments in Olympic history, never achieved before and no doubt never to be repeated again.

The Australians had taken on the equestrian world and triumphed. This would be the beginning of an equestrian dynasty, which survives to this very day. Hardly an Olympics has passed since without Australia registering a medal in equestrian events.

Franz Mairinger went on to coach every Australian Team until his death in 1976.

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Bill Roycroft, whose age had been raised as an issue in the first Games, competed at four more Olympics. Bill, and his son Wayne, received the Team Bronze Medal at the 1968 Mexico City Games and the 1976 Montreal Games, making them the first father and son combination to stand on the Olympic medal dais together. Bill also produced 23 Olympic horses, which is a feat that will be hard to repeat. The majority of these horses were sold and a percentage of the money went back into Equestrian Australia to help fund future Olympic Teams.

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Brian Crago was the only member of the Team not to receive a medal; subsequently the rules have been changed so that all team members receive medals. Crago lived out his life in England where he married and lived happily.

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The Gold and Silver Medals of Laurie Morgan and Neale Lavis, matched with the Team Gold Medal, were the greatest moments in Australian equestrian sport. No one would ever again doubt the qualities of the horsemen of the Southern Cross.

Part 20 Mirabooka. Horseman of the southern cross

 

Neale Lavis and Mirrabooka are the next Australians to ride the course. The endless hours of walking then finally running with Mirrabooka will now be put to the real test. He has had minimal jumping since his success at Badminton and today will test the best horses in the world, it is his chance to show he is in that lofty category.

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Neale feels he has done all he can to have Mirrabooka ready, but this is no longer about Neale and Mirrabooka, this is about his country and his mates. He can’t help but wonder if his pleading to Franz to allow Mirrabooka to take part was the right thing to do, perhaps he should have ridden the reserve horse. But now he is here on his beloved Mirrabooka and they will perform at their best, he will prove to the world the caliber of his Australian Thoroughbred along with the caliber of the Australian horseman.

 

Lavis starts his ride with Mirrabooka at his confident best. It is as though never a day of training was missed, again another fantastic round, the Commentators are in a frenzy over what is without a doubt, the best ride of the day.

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Lavis approaches the ravine, which he knows Crago has successfully negotiated and he knows the way has been partially cleared, but by how much? ‘Not a backward step!’ He turns Mirrabooka toward the cliff-like obstacle. As though it were a standard obstacle on the course, Mirrabooka and Lavis negotiate the dreaded drop and crash through the bush at the bottom. Word has spread around the course of the Australians’ tactics and with each attempt, the spectating-throng grows larger at the bottom of the ravine around
Franz Mairinger.

Lavis and Mirrabooka are also clear and fast on their round. The Team medal is now in sight as riders from other teams struggle with the difficult course.

The English Captain, Forbes-Stewart, is about to start his round. His teammates rush up to him to inform him of the route taken by the Australians. With a determined look, he rides onto the course. The Commentators are praising him and his fine round when he eventually approaches the dreaded drop off. He is looking sheepish, but has decided to take the Australians’ lead. He whips his horse, which instantly increases his tempo, and then at the final moment when the Englishman has committed himself to the task, the horse screams to a halt. Forbes-Stewart is almost unseated but manages to regain his position. With a look of relief on his face, he turns his horse and rides on to take the longer route to the bottom.

Another horse and rider has approached the ravine and launches off the cliff. A close look reveals it is Our Solo and Roycroft. They smash through the bush and onto the lower section of the course. All seems well and the Australians are set to record another clear fast round.

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Roycroft is now approaching Jump 31, not far ahead up the rise, the complex that consists of Jumps 32, 33 and 34, can be seen. It appears like some carnival oasis on the open brown grounds. A large crowd is gathered there to witness the carnage that has already ended the Olympic dream for many a competitor.

Jump 31, though large and very solid, is a row of concrete pipes which is a relatively simple ask for a combination like Our Solo and Roycroft. However, every jump must be shown respect. Underestimation of any jump can get even the best combination into trouble. The following combination of 32, 33 and 34 are daunting and will require every bit of Bill’s concentration. He makes the fatal mistake of thinking too far ahead. Roycroft is certain Our Solo has Jump 31 covered so he continues steeling himself for Jumps 32, 33 and 34. At the last second, the Jump Judge for 31, who has been seated next to the jump, drops his score sheets and they proceed to blow across the course in front of the jump. Without thought, the Judge rushes forward in pursuit of his paperwork. As fate would have it, at this very moment, Roycroft and Our Solo are on the final approach. The movement of the Judge and his fluttering paperwork breaks Solo’s focus. Roycroft, though surprised, is fast to react. He drives Solo on with his riding crop but it is too late, the damage has already been done. Solo’s striding is out and although he attempts the jump, his front legs strike the jump heavily.

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He lands chest first on the other side of the pipes. The horse’s momentum causes him to somersault forward, rolling over Roycroft, who has not had time to scramble clear. The horse is quick to his feet and stands stock still, apparently in a state of shock.

Roycroft is obviously in trouble. He struggles to his feet, stumbling as he does. He appears dazed and his face is cut and grazed, but more alarmingly, blood can be seen oozing from under his shirt. His left shoulder hangs limply by his side. Roycroft staggers to Solo, takes the reins and in obvious pain, remounts one handed. Once on, he sets himself and begins to ride on, slowly at first, then quicker as he gets back to the task at hand.

He knew he was in trouble as he was in extreme pain with tunnel vision. He held the reins in one hand and without a helmet, rode towards the imposing complex, which is combination 32 – 34.

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It has been Roycroft’s intention to ride the straightest and most direct route through the complex, as have the other Australians, however in his current state, riding one handed and with unknown serious injuries, he elects to take the longer and less demanding route. This adds time to his round but he is aware of the time already saved by negotiating the ravine and is now, after his fall, riding for this own pride. Surely the best he can now hope for is to finish the cross-country course. It seems to take an age to complete the complex with the time-consuming twists and turns of the easier options. Roycroft struggles with the pain and the difficulty of controlling Solo one-handed. On a number of occasions he almost falls and at one stage, due to his lack of control, he nearly misses a compulsory element, which would lead to his elimination.

Finally they negotiate the last effort of the complex and gallop on to the finish line, where now overcome with pain, Roycroft passes out and falls heavily from Solo to the ground.

Marshalls and Medics rush to his aid. There are obviously serious concerns for his welfare. He is unconscious with a medical team working on him and taking all the appropriate precautions for spinal injury. Spectators are seen watching the proceedings and due to his lack of movement, there is real fear that he may have been killed.

Roycroft is air lifted to hospital.

Laurie Morgan’s round on Salad Days is now all the more important. Four competitors in a team start the course, but only the top three scores are taken into consideration. With Bill obviously out of the contest, there is no margin for error in Morgan’s ride. As Team Captain, he must now put his cards on the table. He has been obsessive about success all his life and now is certainly no different. Lavis and Crago have done their bit for the cause, the entire chance of a Team medal is on the Captain’s shoulders. Pressure is not an issue; Laurie has felt pressure many times in his sporting endeavours, and he called on all of those experiences today to give him an attitude of invincibility.

Morgan and Salad Days complete the cross-country course as though they are putting on an exhibition. An admiring crowd greets them at the bottom of the ravine, the Australians and their horses have proved to one and all that they are amongst the best.

Morgan’s sublime round puts him in position to take out the individual Gold medal; in fact he and Lavis are both in contention.

Crago has disposed of his demons, which have haunted him since the previous Games, and except for Bill’s injuries, all has gone to plan. They can almost touch the Gold of the Team prize.

Just when all the pieces were coming together, they were devastated at the end of the day when Sabre pulled up lame. There was no dispute, no question, no magic cure; he was gone. Crago was sick in the stomach and there is not a thing anyone can do. The game was over; the Team medal was gone. After all the work and adversity, it finished just like that. The men are devastated and Mairinger comforts Crago as best he can, but now he must look to the performances of his two remaining riders, both in contention for Olympic glory – not the ultimate goal, but still well and truly good enough to appease Samuel Horden’s doubters and bring glory to the effort. The day’s work was done and with nothing more to do to prepare for the next trial, the men turn their attention to Bill Roycroft.

In a Rome hospital the following day, Mairinger, the Team and Gino are all sitting in the waiting room. The Head Surgeon, who has been involved in Roycroft’s treatment, approaches them.

Morgan anxiously asks, “How is he Doc? Is he alright?”
“Mr Roycroft has suffered chest injuries, a compound fracture to the clavicle and has sustained severe concussion. He is in a lot of pain, however all things considered, he is incredibly lucky that there weren’t more severe injuries.”
Morgan was concerned and looking for certain confirmation of his mate’s condition, “There’s nothing permanent or anything like that is there Doc? He’s gonna come good isn’t he?”
“Oh yes, we’ll keep him here for a few more days and I’d say after six weeks rest he should be well on the way to recovery.”
Mairinger enquires, “Doctor, could we see Bill?”
“Well, if you make it very brief, he really needs to rest. No more than five minutes gentlemen. He’s in room 38 at the end of the hall.”

As the men were walking down the hall, Morgan turns to Gino, “Listen Gino, see if you can get your hands on a radio so, if Bill feels up to it, he can listen in to the competition this afternoon. That might cheer him up.”

Gino leaves the group and sets off in search of a radio. The Olympic Team enters Bill’s room. He is awake and staring out of the window. On hearing them, he sits up, which causes pain.

“G’day fellas, I really appreciate you blokes stopping by, but you’ve got more important things to worry about today.”
Momentarily, Morgan softens from his usual ‘let’s get it done attitude’, “Mate, you’re our biggest worry, but the doctor tells us you’re going to be okay.”
“Yeah, I’ll be fine Laurie.”
“Listen fellas, the only thing I can say is, I’m sorry. I just don’t know what happened out there.”
Mairinger supportingly responded, “What happened out there was not your fault Bill. It was a freak accident, that Marshall’s paper just spooked your horse. It should never have happened.”
“All I remember is approaching the jump, Solo felt good, I felt good and then I just remember waking up in a bloody helicopter. Solo’s alright isn’t he?”
“He’s fine Bill. He came out unscathed.”
Crago jokingly added, “That’s because you cushioned his fall Bill. He came down on top of you mate.”
“Well listen fellas, I really appreciate you blokes coming around, but I want you to leave and concentrate on your preparation. It’s medal day today and we only need three of us to take the Team gold. Isn’t that right Brian? We didn’t bloody go down that ridge for nothing!”

There is an awkward silence in the room. Roycroft senses something is wrong.

“What’s up? You blokes keeping something from me?”
Mairingar breaks the news that Laurie and Neale are the only ones riding today, “Bill, Brian’s horse pulled up lame.”
“Shit! Brian, I’m sorry mate.”
“Watching you airlifted in a helicopter put things in perspective. The fact that you’re gonna be okay is all that matters.”

Lavis agrees, “He’s right Bill.”

The Team, knowing that their five minutes are up, start to move towards Roycroft to say their goodbyes. Mairinger places his hand on Bill’s shoulder, “Well Bill, thank heavens you’re okay. Now we must let you get some rest.”
Morgan taps his friend on the leg, “Listen mate, Gino should be here in a minute. I’ve sent him to get you a radio so you can listen in this arvo.”
Roycroft is suddenly animated, “Listen in? Bullshit! Brian’s horse is out and mine’s okay. I’m coming with you blokes. End of story!”
Mairinger was impressed, but also realistic, “Bill, you’re in no condition to come with us to watch, let alone compete!”
“Listen Franz, we haven’t come this far to let some stupid bloody fall stop us from getting the Team medal. I’ve had worse.”
Morgan knows the toughness and commitment of his mate, “Bill, you’ve got a broken collarbone, your ribs are stuffed and you’ve got concussion. And …”
Roycroft got up from his bed, “And bloody nothin’ mate! This isn’t open for discussion. We’ve gotta give it a go, it’s as simple as that!”
Morgan knows there will be no stopping Roycroft once he has made up his mind, “Bill, the doctors aren’t gonna let you leave here.”
Gino enters the room with a radio, “Mr Bill, thank heavens you’re okay.”
Roycroft reaches out with his good arm, flinching as he does so. He takes Gino’s hat off and places it on his own head, “I’m okay mate, now how about you give me your coat and jump into the bed and we’ll see you at the car in ten minutes. Capisce?”

Moments later Roycroft, wearing Gino’s clothes, is walking out of the hospital, surrounded by his Teammates. Surely in his state, Roycroft, though gallant, will not be able to do the job, but who are the Team to stand in his way? They all understand his position.

Part 19 Mirrabooka. Horseman of the southern cross.

The Cross Country phase has begun with riders and horses suffering from the extreme heat and humidity of the Roman summer and most are making hard work of the course. The combinations at jumps 32, 33 and 34 late in the course, have been particularly punishing, after 26 riders, none had made the optimum time or gone around the course without jumping penalties. Crago is the 1st of the Australians to ride and he is totally focused on Sabre as he prepares for the trial ahead.

It is a tense time for Crago, knowing he is about to undertake a manoeuvre that could potentially end in disaster. He has purposefully placed the breastplate supplied by Gino, and adjusted it on Sabre, as if in some sort of pre-gladiatorial ceremony. He adjusts and fastens each buckle, stopping to admire the Australian Coat of Arms carved into the solid looking piece of leather harness. Leather blinkers are placed over the Sabre’s eyes and he places as much leg protection on the horse as possible; knee guards, shin protectors and leather bell boots, and the tension grows with the fastening of each buckle.

Crago himself has elected to wear long sleeves and gloves despite the oppressively hot and humid conditions. Sabre is now fully tacked up and Crago reaches up and gently strokes him above the eye as he soothingly whispers, “I’ll look after you mate.”

Crago puts on his helmet and as he adjusts it, time seems to slow down, it’s as though he is in a dream. Adrenalin can have this affect. He mounts Sabre and rides towards the Ten Second Box to await the countdown for the commencement of his ride. Once again, there is a gladiatorial feel to what he is about to undertake. Suddenly, he is brought back into focus. Back to real speed and sound as the Starter begins the ten second count.

Sabre is on the toe; he marches on the spot ready to leap into action as soon as the order is given.

Crago looks down at the Coat of Arms on his saddlecloth, touches it and growls his new mantra to himself between gritted teeth, “Never a backward step.”

His fingers tighten around the reins and he takes a handful of mane. Finally the starter counted down to “Zero” and with that, Crago and Sabre launched forward as though into battle.

Commentator 1, “And the first of the Australians is now on course, it’s Brian Crago, the only Australian who has previously ridden at the Olympics.”

Commentator 2, “Yes that’s right, and if I remember correctly, it was an incident on the Cross Country course involving Brian Crago that potentially cost his country a medal at the last games.”

Commentator 1, “I’m not sure I’m familiar with that type of breastplate, any thoughts on that?”

Commentator 2, “No, but the way he’s armoured up there, you would swear he was going into battle!”

Jump one looms immediately. Jump one; never take it for granted. Many run-outs occur at Jump one through complacency. Approach every jump like it is the last one you will ever ride.
Up and over, hit the ground galloping.
Rhythm and tempo; don’t get too excited and burn out too early.
Jump two, Jump three, Jump four.
Long gallop to five; bank and lane combination.
Upright two strides, up onto the bank, two strides, drop two strides another vertical.
“Here we go over one, two up, good boy, one two down, one two over and away, good boy.”

The gathered crowd cheer, Crago and Sabre are making light work of the course and there are only a couple of more jumps before Crago must place himself in the hands of destiny.

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Sabre is travelling boldly and he has never felt better in himself, all of his confidence is in Crago on his back, “He won’t let me down. Jump 11, half halt, shorten, shorten, it must be a bounce, I have to react quickly when I hit the ground. Solid upright, looks too high! Oh it’s only brush on top, I can push through that, lift, land, snap up and drive! Over and out, blow, blow, blow, rhythm and tempo, relax, what’s next? It’s hot, it’s so hot, but the sweat helped me through that brush. Big crowd, must be a water complex, photographers, shifting people, movement everywhere, half halt, mind on the job, focus, big drop it’s only water, he wouldn’t ask me to do it if it wasn’t safe, splash, nice, half halt, focus, hold the line, jump, splash, splash, splash, jump, splash, jump and out.”

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This is it, the final stretch to the big leap into the ravine and Sabre is surging along strongly, his nostrils flared making use of every ounce of available oxygen, his ears are still pricked in concentration, and as they near the dreaded point, Crago leans forward and whispers to Sabre, “Here we go mate, ‘never a backward step’.”

Crago indicates for Sabre to change course and heads straight for the ravine, Crago grits his teeth and again growls to himself, “Never a backward step.”

Sabre launched into space.

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Over the loudspeaker the Commentator is alarmed, “Something has gone wrong the Australian, he has gone off the course, this could be very bad.”

Crago and Sabre seem to be in the air for an eternity then finally land on the almost vertical face of the ravine. After the initial drop of about ten feet through the air, the stony face of the ground shatters under the weight of the landing horse. He slides, sitting on his powerful haunches, then lunges forward and back into his galloping stride, still racing almost vertically down the slope. The undergrowth is thick and the track barely visible.

Crago lowers his head so that his helmet will take the brunt of the impact from the lantana, then his head hits a branch and he is thrown backward, almost dislodging him from the saddle. He gives Sabre his head in order to allow him to negotiate the dangerous descent without interference from him. Branches and thick brush smash onto the strong, protective breastplate emblazoned with the Australian Coat of Arms. Branches are heavily buffeting Crago, but he continually bounces back to the task.

Looking up from the bottom of the ravine, the bush can be seen to part as though it’s being cleared by a rolling bolder. The undergrowth looks to be an impenetrable hedge until suddenly Crago and Sabre crash through. They explode out of the dense bush and into the open of the lower section of the course. Behind them, a path has been partially cleared.

The only person to witness this feat at the bottom of this ridge is Franz Mairinger, as all other spectators are gathered around the major jumps.

The plan has worked. Crago tips his hat to Franz and continues on his way. The Commentator boomed over the loud speaker, “No! What a gallant move by the Australian. That’s the first rider we’ve seen take that route and I’d say it will be the last. In all my years of commentating I’ve never seen anything like it!”

Crago and Sabre finish the course. He looks to the scoreboard and is ecstatic to see that he has made the fastest time with no jumping penalties. He pats Sabre with enthusiasm, “Good boy, good boy.”

He looks over to the rest of his Team who are preparing to start their rides and as their eyes meet, he points down to his saddlecloth and then points up to the Heavens in a salute to Sam horden.

Crago is a mess and looks as though he has been in a fight. He is scratched and dirty, as is Sabre who has a cut on his front nearside fetlock, which has turned his white sock red; hopefully it is only superficial.

The way has been paved. The door to the Holy Grail of a Team Gold medal has reopened and the Australians will fight to the death.

part 18 Mirrabooka , horseman of the southern cross.

 

The Australian equestrians stood on the edge of a precipice; ahead the opportunity to launch into greatness, to make their mark on Olympic history .

The first ever properly prepared Australian Equestrian Team was about to take to the Olympic arena against the best horse people the world had to offer. The work had been done, there had been plenty of doubters, there had been adversity, all of which got them to this point and now the real battle begins.

The Australian Team had gathered before the start of competition. Mairinger was there to address them, “Laurie, Brian, Neil, Bill. I had some words set aside for this very moment, however I received a package from Australia yesterday. Sam Horden sent it to us before he died, along with this note.” Mairinger pulled the letter from his top pocket and started to read, “To the Australian Olympic Team and my friends – never a backward step. Sam.”

Franz handed the package to Laurie Morgan, who opened it to reveal four saddlecloths, embroidered with the Australian Coat of Arms. There was silence as the men looked at their new saddlecloths.

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They remembered the efforts of Samuel Horden and now in death, he had made one final comment with the kangaroo and the emu on the Coat of Arms, “never a backward step”.

The first day of competition was the Dressage. All day long there was a line of competitors streaming in and out of the arenas all under the scrutiny of the Judges, none of whom were Australian. Dressage is an interesting sport. The rider and horse enter the arena they are naked in front of the judges there is no where to hide. On the cross country course one can take a jump unbalanced and almost fall off but not be penalised  , with a good horse and plenty of heart a rider can fumble around the course and still go clear and fast. In the dressage arena no indiscretion is missed, in hack classes horses travel  around in never ending circles when asked to canter off they do so in there own time in the dressage Arena accuracy is paramount canter at “a” means canter at “a” not an inch before not an inch after. As a boxer enters the ring to put his work, his courage and his abilities on show for all to see so does a dressage rider every mistake is punished.

There were some magnificent riders on big solid European horses with scopey movement. These were the Judges favourite types and they were unaccustomed to the light, sprightly athleticism of the Australian Thoroughbred, at the end of the day, they had judged what they were accustomed to. Even taking this into account, the Australians had done well finishing fourth overall in the Team standings. The intent was always to be in touch after the Dressage but were they close enough to pose a threat the next day? The French had been outstanding as was expected and had a solid lead.

After the last competitors had finished their tests, the Commentators Dicussed whilst contemplating the leader board. “A truly marvelous performance by the entire French Team in day one the Dressage.”
A second commentator chimed in, “Indeed, with the points lead the French Team has, it looks like Germany, England and Australia will be fighting it out for the minor medals as far as the Team standings go.”
“Yes it would appear that the French are well on their way to Gold here in Rome in the Teams event.”

The Australian Team were gathered around a table with Mairinger at the head. In front of him were several papers with team information and points results of the day’s competition.

The Team had come to terms with the awesome performance of the French and it was now out of their hands, they had all competed at their best, but in Dressage on the day, the French were exceptional. It was basically accepted that the Team Gold medal was out of reach.

In the hot, humid Roman conditions, it was unlikely that riders would complete the course without time penalties, the Australians knew the Cross Country was their strength and they would give it everything, but under the conditions, it would now be about individual performance.

Mairinger was looking through the sheets of competitor’s scores and Morgan, Roycroft and Lavis had joined him. “Excellent performance today, gentlemen. You’re all in a good position for individual medals over the next three days. Our main threats will come from ..”

Crago, who remained seated, interrupted the conversation, “What about the Team medal?”

The Team stopped their conversation and focused on Crago.

“The Team medal Franz, what about the Team medal? Can we win it?”

“I wish there was a way Brian, but with the French’s performance today, their lead is unassailable. For us to be in contention for Gold, the French would need to falter and we would have to ride perfect rounds, fast and clear. With the conditions as they are and considering the technicality of the course, I believe we must focus on the individual standings, take the sensible option and preserve the horses for day three. At this point, you would all be considered a chance at an individual medal, I don’t see any option, it is the individual medals that we should focus on.

The Team returned to their animated conversation, pouring over the points scores. Crago remained at the end of the table, head bowed in deep contemplation. He raised his head, “We can still win the Team Gold.”

The Australian Team once again stopped and focussed on Crago.

Crago had always felt he’d let the Team down at the last Games and it had now become apparent to him that it had affected him more than he thought and he was single minded in wanting to set things straight tonight. “We can do it, we can do it as a Team, we can do it as a country.”

All of the men were disappointed at the seemingly out-of-reach Team medal, none more than Team Captain, Laurie Morgan. “Brian, it’d be great if we could mate, but you heard what Franz said, it’d be bloody impossible and could stuff any of us getting a medal.

Lavis tried to bring Crago back into focus, “Brian, your chances are just as good as any of us of going home with a medal mate.”

Crago responded, “Just hear me out fellas. I’m not asking anyone to do anything they don’t want to do, just asking you guys to listen to what I’ve got to say. I think there might be a way.”

Mairinger gave Brian the floor, “Go on Brian.”

“After the last Olympics,” he paused before his addition, “yeah, I’ve got a score to settle here. And the score is simple – to let the whole world know that we are the number one Equestrian Team at these Games. They should have known it at the last Games and by crikey, they’ll bloody know it at these Games as far as I’m concerned. Now the way I see it, if we take that goat’s track that old bloke and his donkey took, which is a legitimate option, we’ll have enough time up our sleeves to ride the course clear and close the gap on the French.”

Roycroft responded in amazement, “Are you bloody crazy? Brian, you’re grasping at straws there mate! That bloke was flat out getting down that track with a tiny donkey at a snail’s pace. The clock will be running, if we slow down we will lose the time we have made up with the hard route.”

“That’s how we approach it.”

Morgan confused asked, “And how’s that Brian?”
“Like you’re in an Olympic competition with the clock going.”

Mairinger was concerned, “Attempting something that you haven’t done before Brian, in an Olympic competition, could end in disaster and virtually put anyone who tried it out of contention.”

Crago responded passionately, “I’ve ridden down ridges twice as big as that, I’ve been doing it all my life. Bloody hell, we all have! Anyway, I’m not askin’ anyone to have a go until they see how I do it. If I can’t do it, then the rest of you continue on with the individual medal.”

Lavis was on board as he wanted the Team medal as much as anyone, “But Brian, that bloke on the donkey, after he’d gone down the first drop, it was thick bush with thorns all the way through it. He got under it because he was small and his donkey was tiny. You come down it on Sabre who’s over 16 hands and that scrub will take your head off before you get halfway down the ridge.”

“I’m gonna hit that scrub like a steamroller. Mate when I’m finished I can assure you the rest of you blokes won’t have that problem.”

Mairinger was not opposed to the idea, but was concerned about the horses’ welfare. “How do you intend protecting yourself and your horse Brian?”

“As far as Sabre is concerned, I’ll strap him up, put some blinkers on him and if I can get my hands on a good size breastplate, he’ll be right.”

Gino, who had been sitting at the back of the room listening contributed, “Mr Brian, my wife’s brother is one of the best leatherworkers in all of Rome. This breastplate, can it be made out of leather, no?”

Crago smiled, “Leather would be fine Gino. Well what do you think fellas? The way I see it, you don’t get too many chances to show what a bunch of bushies can do when they put their minds to it.”

Mairinger was processing the idea and thought to himself, “Well, I’ve got to go with the majority in this case, what Brain is proposing is the Australian way and like a good young horse, I would not try to diminish his natural enthusiasm and instinct.”

“Brian, are you prepared to risk your Olympic campaign for a very small chance of winning the Team medal?”
“I’ve never been surer of anything in my life Franz.”

“We take a vote then, and if we are to go ahead with this, it is with the understanding that if Brian fails the rest of you then concentrate on individual medals. Understood?”

Crago asked the final question, “Well what’s it gonna be fellas? Laurie?”
“Just make sure your bloody gardening skills are up to scratch when you go down that hill. I’m in.”
“Neil?”
“We’re a Team aren’t we? I’m in.”
“Bill?”
“Do you have to ask mate? Course I’m in you crazy bastard.”

Crago has committed to risking any kind of medal for the chance of putting the Team back in medal contention. Five years of preparation will rest on his shoulders as he throws caution to the wind.

It is something he had to do.

Part 17 Mirrabooka, horseman of the southern cross.

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.

 

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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.

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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.

Part 16 Mirrabooka. Horseman of the southern cross.

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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
Laurie Morgan.
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.

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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.

Part 15 mirrabooka horseman of the southern cross.

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.

“Sam.” stop.
“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”.

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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.

 

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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.

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“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.

part 14 Mirrabooka. horseman of the southern cross

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, Our solo 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 our solo 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. Our solo 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 our solo 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 Solo 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 Our solo  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
British media.

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.

part 14 Mirrabooka. horseman of the southern cross

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
British media.

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.

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.