Big ride for big Alex( wanted one pair of size 15 riding boots)

So big Alex is one of the clients out at Cana farm he has the biggest most friendly smile you have ever seen” Alex is a big polineasian lad at a guess 6 foot 5 and about 160 kilograms. Alex has been helping out at the Thoroughbred drehabilitation trust, feeding horses brushing and generally following the staff around asking “why?” Alex did a little bit of join up with one of the TRT horses and I considered putting him up on one but at his size, a thoroughbred wasn’t quite the right horse for the job. I enquired of some good friends who breed shire horses and they kindly gave us Elizabeth. Elizabeth won at Sydney royal in her breed class 4 times, a four time supreme shire exhibit. And now in retirement just a lovely old friends girl. Elizabeth will live out her days well cared for at Cana farm.

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                                                    Dont worry big fella we will help you

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                                  Mounting with the help of myself, Simone and Elizabeth 

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                                                                     Its ok mate just relax

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Simone holding hands, apparently her dad the dentist reckoned it worked for nervous patients

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                                                   Now to convince Elizabeth it’s a good idea 

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                                                      And away we go 

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                      Wanted one pair of size 15 men’s riding boots. 

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 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.

Gotta love kids

My 5 year old started school this year. He is a very switched on kid I’ve had five boys so I have fair idea. He doesn’t miss a trick you would think he had been here before. Last night we went to his first school disco, he was very keen to catch up with his new best mate Mataio. He looked and looked but couldn’t find him in the crowd . “Maybe he isn’t here” I said. “He must be “he said “I have seen his mum.” We looked with no luck, “what does he look like ?” I asked , now, remember this is a very smart kid who notices everything, “he looks exactly like me he said. ” Where is his mum I asked ,”over there” he pointed to a tall statuesque African woman.
we found Mataio . Gotta love kids.image

Part 11 “Mirrabooka” horseman of the southern cross

The four competitors and Mairinger stood at the side of an arena. Just released from his stable, a horse runs free. He is full of beans and exploded towards the other end of the arena at full gallop. At the last moment, he screams to a halt, turns on his hindquarters and kicks out high with both back legs. Two or three airborne bucks and he returns down the arena in a beautiful extended trot, neck arched, tail in the air and his front feet flick out full of the joy and beauty of movement that only a horse can produce.

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“Have you ever seen a cow or a pig exhibit this kind of expression?” questions Mairinger. “We are blessed to be involved with such majestic creatures, they were truly created as a gift to mankind. Watch him move and embed that vision in your mind. Our job, when riding, is to produce as close as possible to what the horse can do without our clumsy weight upon his back. Communicate clearly and let him do what he does naturally, the horse is designed to go forward, all of his muscles have been designed for this purpose, so we must never interfere with the natural forward desire. Horses are not designed to carry weight that was not what nature intended, they were designed to eat grass and go forward when required. We must help them use their muscles designed only for forward movement, to carry weight, our weight, which can be 25% of their total body weight. If you weigh 10 stone, place a young child on your back, if he sits still you can run quite comfortably but if he moves around or sits awkwardly to one side you will struggle to walk in a straight line. Why would it be different to the horse? We must sit still and balanced, that is all. Once he is educated and strong, we sit still and allow him to look like that.” Mairinger looks back to the horse in the arena, the horse pulls to a perfect square halt. “Glorious to behold.”

The men are certain they know how to ride. They are tough and brave and no obstacles will stop them or their horses, but after learning of Mairinger’s prowess at the Spanish Riding School, they realise is there much more to be learned. No doubt there is, Crago had dealt with Mairinger for four years now and he was acutely aware of the technicalities to which they would be exposed during the pre-departure training camp. Lavis had spent some time with Mairinger and he had sniffed the brilliance of the man and was hungry to learn as much as he possibly could. Roycroft and Morgan however, were a different story. Morgan was supremely confident in his abilities, as he had done very well, and though he appreciated Mairinger’s past and reputation, it would take some convincing to get him to change the way he did things. Roycroft was book-educated on dressage and he could quote chapter and verse in what the books said and had been successful enough to make the Team, but now he would need to buy into the fact that Franz could have written the book from which he had learnt.

Mairinger has been quiet about the weaknesses of the Team’s dressage. He could have been scathing on many occasions and at times he had cringed inside with the clumsiness of most of their riding.

Now there was no point in being negative, he must get the message across diplomatically, but at all costs, he must get it across.

The men had spent many hours during the past week in the dressage arena and were becoming bored with Franz’s continual consolidation of the absolute basics.
Morgan piped up, “Franz, when can we do some more jumping? I’m getting sick of this “sausage”.
“Sausage?” enquired Roycroft.
“Yeah, sausage dressage. All the same, I’ve got the thing bent around my leg. It’s like sitting on a sausage.”
The men, including Mairinger, had a good laugh at Morgan’s comment.
“Gentleman”, Mairinger ended the laughter, “You all jump very well, and your horses are sufficiently fit at this stage, so we must work on our weaknesses, not our strengths. The strengths, I have no doubt, will look after themselves, but if we are not in touch with the other competitors after the dressage faze, then we are not in the competition.”
Roycroft spoke out, “Franz, I’ve read all this and I get it that you put the horse to the bit, not the bit to the horse, but in all honesty, how can I control the horse if I don’t pull on the reins? Surely that’s how you ride, left rein to go left right rein to go right.”
Mairinger was inwardly disappointed but managed to control his emotions. “Bill, I had hoped that I had passed the message on better and I am at fault if I have not. Only the best riders grasp the subtle difference between riding and holding. 95% of riders will never truly get it in their entire riding lives, rarely do any of that 95% win medals at the Olympics, I doubt if ever.”
Roycroft continued, “I can’t spell Franz, I’m a shocker and at my age I don’t think I’m gonna change that much, I can ride, I’ve gotten here. Do you really think I can or should I change?
Mairinger, though exasperated, continued to try to get his message across. He was acutely aware that riders could only achieve what he was after when they were ready; mentally, emotionally and physically. With adequate experience, all of these men had the latter two elements, but needed to release mentally. Crago and Lavis were well on the way.
Morgan now entered the discussion, “Franz, you keep telling us to keep the horse under our weight how can he be anywhere else? I’m with Bill, too much airy-fairy stuff, we need to do some practical riding.”
Mairinger knew when training horses or men, that sometimes you needed to back off and let them digest what it was that you had been schooling them on.
“Maybe you are right”, Mairinger conceded, “Let’s go for a ride in the country-side and let us and the horses rest our weary minds.”

Sometime later, the men were riding across a green field whilst discussing the ins and outs of what Franz had been trying to get across to them.

Morgan and Roycroft grasped the concept, but continued to argue for more practical riding instruction as they were dubious of Franz’s flowery descriptions of how ‘with such light highly refined aids’ they could get a horse to behave better than they could with a quick jab in the mouth.

Their ride approached a train line. To their left, the tracks disappeared into a cutting in the side of a rocky hill. Franz, looking at his watch, stopped his horse and turned to address the other riders. As he did so, the loud rumbling of a locomotive could be heard echoing out of the cutting. Any second now and a train would be amongst them. As the train came closer, the horses became agitated and the men were now struggling to keep them under control. Still, Mairinger’s horse, though alert, stood reasonably quietly and he stepped ever so slightly left and right, but Mairinger, with a slight adjustment of his seat, kept the horse in place.

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The driver of the train, upon seeing the men on horseback, and as was the rule, sounded the horn to warn of his approach. The Team of four horses, now panicked and scattered in all directions, with the men urging them with their voices to “stand up, stand” or “steady mate, steady” but to no avail. The horse’s broke and one or two travelled more than 65 feet before the riders could arrest their disobedience. The men gathered their horses as best they could, cursing the train and the driver as they faced back toward Mairinger. They were amazed and dumb-founded to see him and his horse still in their original position. The horse was now well and truly up but held under Mairinger’s position. Mairinger’s hands were still as was his entire being. There seemed to be no effort, but still, the horse, as agitated as the others, stood his ground. The train was now directly adjacent to Mairinger and the other horses spun and sidestepped with the men struggling to hold them anywhere near the train. At the height of the commotion, and in clear view of the other men, Mairinger dropped his reins. Surely now the horse would bolt. But no, his demeanour did not settle, however, he remained steadfast under the calmly seated Franz Mairinger. Greatness raised its head, the artistry combined with practicality, with the train disappearing into the distance and the Team returned to Mairinger.

The lesson has been taught; from this moment forward, Mairinger had the complete belief of all of the men.

It had become apparent that dressage/sausage was much more than something you did in an arena.

No one would again question the importance of Franz’s methods. At one point, dressage, as it was called, was practiced for the purpose of warfare; it was the difference between losing, or not losing, your head. The men were now switched on to the importance placed on it by Franz, the great man.

Part 2 “Mirrabooka” Horseman of the southern cross.

Some hours later, the Anzac Day march is complete, the mounted police are now escorting the Light Horse troops through the city on their way back to the Sydney Showground at Moore Park, which has been used as a marshalling point for the returned service personnel on horseback.

Each trooper has been assigned a mounted officer and they ride back two abreast.
Constable Brodie has been assigned to a man called Neal Lavis. Now Neal is a lovely quiet bloke, with the air of a horseman. There is a quietness that comes with true horsemen, particularly when they are riding or are around horses. It is a respect for the animal, for the horse is most at ease when things are calm and consistent. The horse wants to be relaxed in a field of lush green grass, rhythmically swatting away a few flies with his tail, or having them swatted by his mate’s tail as they stand top to tail, warm summer days with a slight breeze acting as an early warning system should a strange smell arise, high on a hill where they can see for miles. So safe that they can happily lay on the soft green bed confident that their herd mates will watch for danger and signal to them with plenty of time to spare. This is all a horse can want; every step closer to this makes a horse happier. This is how a horseman feels, he sets the horse at ease, offers no confusing signals and allows the horse to relax at every opportunity; a horseman is like a green field in spring. Neil had this vibe and Constable Brodie recognised it as they rode together.

“What do you do with your horses?” asked Neil.
“I event,” said Brodie “but I love dressage and have a great instructor, Tina Womelsdorf”
“I know Tina, she trained with my instructor Franz Mairinger.”
“Franz Mairinger? Tina talks about him all the time, I have read his book, I feel like I know him.”
“I knew him well.”
“Did you ride dressage?”
“No eventing.”
“What level did you ride to?”
“I won a gold medal at the Rome Olympics trained by Franz.”
“Oh my God, sorry mate, I had no idea! I would love to hear about it and learn more about Franz. I think someone should write a book on his life.”
“Once we get these horses put away let’s go and have a beer and I’ll tell you all about it.”

That evening the two men met up to talk horses. Neil Lavis was an unassuming quiet man, thoughtful and confident in his 70’s with a fantastic memory. He had been in his late teens and early twenties at the time of the incidents he would now impart; but as he spoke it could have been yesterday. The Olympic gold medalist began to tell an amazing story, a story, which truly rivals that of the great Don Bradman, a story that all Australians should be aware of. It would be the first of many versions of this story that Constable Brodie would hear over the next few years on his quest to bring to light this amazing journey.

The year was 1952, and Australia was still recovering from the Second World War, times had been tough. As is known now, but were not so then, men that returned from war often returned with issues. Today many would be diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and treated medically, though one could argue that even more could be done today. In those days, it wasn’t spoken of, some turned to drink, some turned to crime, most found something to keep them busy. Some of Australia’s, and in fact the world’s, greatest sportsmen were born out of this era. Men had obsessions that were somehow therapeutic, and if nothing else, kept them sane and out of trouble.

Horses are a great distraction, and a young, enthusiastic equestrian movement was developing in Australia. Australia has had a long and intimate relationship with the horse. In a huge country with sparse roads, once out of the main towns horses were still often the main form of transport. At that time, Australia is said to have ridden on the sheep’s back, referring to the importance of the wool industry but stockmen, cattlemen, shepherds and farmers of all types still relied heavily on horses in their day to day life. Most country children had been raised on the backs of horses riding to school, riding on the farm, competing at pony club and local shows. Unfortunately, to an extent, the classical riding skills and techniques of European origins had been bastardised into something that “just got the job done” plenty of grit and determination but not much style and grace.

There were plenty of horses too. The racing industry in Australia was strong and it had held the country together through the depression where the great Pharlap thrilled the struggling masses, creating at least something to cheer about in times of not much cheer.

The Australian thoroughbred is hardy and tough and most riding horses in Australia had a healthy splash of thoroughbred blood, all except the heavier draft breeds who had forged roads, plowed fields and pulled trees for the building of the country. I specifically refer to the “Australian thoroughbred” because though most all-purpose horses had some thoroughbred background, so too, did the Australian thoroughbred have some mongrel blood. The thoroughbred racing fraternity would not entertain the idea that the thoroughbred breed had been tainted by impure blood, but the facts were that at this time many racehorses were registered from an unknown station mare or unknown stallion. This splash of mongrel led to a tougher, hardier type than the European thoroughbred; a hybrid vigour if you like. These horses made an easy transition when ridden by gutsy tough riders from the racing world into the world of equestrianism. Most had very good jumping blood having originated in Ireland, where to this day, there is more jump racing than flat racing. Most people in the equestrian world fail to recognise the dynasty of the Thoroughbred as a jumping horse.

From the time racing began, there have been jumps races; point to point, steeple chase and hurdles. No other breed has been bred for as long for this purpose. In Europe where equestrianism has a heritage unbroken back to the time of Xenophon
2500 years ago, purpose bred horses had been developed for hundreds, if not thousands of years for the purpose of carrying men into battle, they needed to be strong, fast and nimble or their riders would have their heads removed. These horses had a balance of these qualities but not the endurance, speed and athleticism of the thoroughbred, who had been specifically developed for exactly these attributes.

On this particular day, a group of such Australian men and horses were gathered in
Sydney’s Centennial Park, something was afoot, a race was about to be run, a gathering of semi professional looking jocks on horses of the thoroughbred type were bustling about, generally trotting out, half out of control, struggling not to crash into each other. Occasionally, expletives could be heard yelled loudly as close calls occurred and crashes just averted.

Sitting on a well-mannered but similarly conformed horse was a young ex-solider dressed in polo apparel, he was watching the goings on with great interest. Eventually he rode up to the organiser of the race.
“Can I get a start?”
The organiser looked up, “In that get up?” referring to the polo apparel as opposed to the racing apparel worn by most of the other riders.
“Just for fun.” replied the rider.

His name was Brian Crago. Crago was a bit of a rogue, loved a bet, loved a joke and loved horses. His cheeky bravado hid a love and real respect for his equine partners, he had been raised as a rider, and as riders go, he was a good one. His father had been a horseman and had taught him more gentle compassionate ways of training a horse at a time when breaking-in meant what it sounded like; breaking a horse’s spirit until he gave up and submitted to the will of tough, hard men who saw them as tools of the trade. Crago recognised that by getting a horse to work with you, rather than simply working him, gave you a better result. Crago had done his service and returned to Australia where he had taken some interest in polo, flat racing, point to point racing and anything on which a bet could be laid. He was at his happiest when he could combine his two great loves, betting and horses in the one place.

Crago paid his entry fee, and headed straight to a bookmaker giving odds on the race soon to start.
“What odds can I get?” asked Crago
“On a polo pony?” returned the bookie “30 to 1.”
“I’ll have 20 pounds.” Crago immediately fired back.
“Done.” said the bookmaker, easy money as far as he was concerned. There were some serious ex-racehorses here that would definitely outrun this little polo pony regardless of his breeding or how well he was ridden.

At this point a vehicle pulled up close by. The driver turned to his passenger, “I think you might appreciate this Mr Mairinger.” The two men alighted to watch the goings on. The driver was Anthony Horden, a well-known man about town and a very successful businessman. He had been an outstanding sportsman in has day, it seemed he excelled in anything he put his mind to. Horden had a love of equestrianism and lamented the fact that Australia had never had a team compete at the Olympic Games. He recognised the potential of the Australian riders and horses but also recognised that without the right mentor, a trainer with the finesse of the great European riders, Australia may never reach the heights it had in just about every other Olympic event.
Enter Franz Mairinger. Franz was a good-looking man with the familiar air of a horseman. Quietly unassuming and missing nothing through his dark rimmed glasses, he had the look of a professor or artist and he certainly stood out amongst the crowd.

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                                                                            Franz Maringer

It is widely know that at the conclusion of the Second World War, many of the great classical art works of Europe were stolen or otherwise acquired and distributed around the world. Less recognised is the distribution of great artists who left Europe to find new homes across the globe. They have enriched society and changed the world in many ways. One classical artist who made his way to Australia was the great Franz Mairinger.

Franz was not an artist in the sense that he painted or sculpted, nonetheless, he was one of the finest artists in the world at that time, for Franz was a head rider at the infamous magnificent Spanish Riding School in Vienna, 500 years in the pursuit of equestrian perfection underpinned his classical training. Franz was selected from amongst the best riders of the Austrian cavalry to be accepted into the school. He rose through the ranks to become a head rider.

During the war, the Spanish Riding School came under the control of the Nazi party and was forced to perform under the shadow of the swastika. At the end of the war, when the Russian army was flooding down from the north devouring everything in its path, it was not easy to feed an army. The Lipizzaner mares, the breeding stock of the School, were at the School’s farm in Lipaza in the former Yugoslavia, their fate, should no action be taken, was certain, and the ancient breed was at risk of being lost. Franz, along with other members of the school, performed for General MacArthur of the U.S. Army to convince him that an operation should be mounted to rescue the mares. MacArthur was so impressed, that such an operation was undertaken and the mares were brought out of harms way.

At the conclusion of the war, Franz decided that he would leave Europe to find a better life for his family. He eventually arrived in Australia and gradually his prowess as a rider and trainer became known. Horden saw what he needed and he approached Mairinger to become coach of the first ever Australian equestrian team. Mairinger, who had been working in factories in South Australia, jumped at the chance to get back to his first true love.

So here they were; the reason there were so many horses and riders in town was the upcoming Sydney Royal Show. Horden and Mairinger had invited all comers to attend and demonstrate their abilities. It would be the major selection opportunity for those interested in trying to make the Australian Olympic Team. Mairinger and Horden, delighted at the prospect of seeing some horse competition, walked closer to where the starter was taking up his position to address the racers.

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“Alright, alright hold those horses.” called the starter as he stood on a stump by the top rail of a white fence that ran off into the distance. He called out to the men waiting for his instructions, “Ok, its very simple, race starts on my left, the course runs down the length of this fence.” The fence was of the typical post and rail construction standing about six feet tall and painted white, it was used of a morning for the local racehorses in training as a running rail.

“Exactly half a mile down there, you turn through the gate come back and finish on my right. First to cross the line is the winner, start on my left, finish on my right, other than that there are no rules.” The announcement of no rules was met with a boisterous cheer from the riders and the crowd. It alluded to what could be a physical encounter and the turn at the other end could be particularly dangerous with so many horses going from full gallop in one direction to full gallop in the other.

 

Horden turned to Mairinger “A little friendly competition before the show tomorrow.”
Mairinger smiled, he had had his rough and tumble days on horseback whilst a member of the Austrian cavalry, “A fine selection of horses.”

The starter boomed “Okay, bring me up to the line. Go!!!”

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They were off, thundering down the dirt riding track which was on the left hand side of the fence, there was much whooping and hollering, some, caught by the quickness of the start were still facing the wrong direction and they spun and followed the throng, there would be ample chance for a brave rider to make up ground with a good turn. As they raced off into the distance, one combination is left at the start; it is Crago on his polo pony. The pony is agitated at the sudden exit of the other horses; Crago sits deep and quiet, legs draped calmly around the horse’s girth.

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                            there is more than one way to skin a cat

This fellow is not racing?” enquired Mairinger.
“Seems not.” replied Horden.
“Looks like you wasted your cash!” laughed the bookmaker with his acquaintances.
The racing horses started to slow in order to make the sharp and dangerous u turn so as to return on the other side of the fence, several riders are unable to pull their mounts up, such is the excitement and in some cases lack of education of the horses they are riding.

As the first of the group turn to head for home with half a mile to run, Crago turns his horse who is now working in a highly collected canter almost on the spot, away from the fence, he rides out for 10 yards or so. Mairinger’s interest is turned to Crago and his little polo pony not more than 15 hands, but looking every bit as majestic as any of the classical equine statues sprinkled about Europe. Franz though that he would not have looked out of place at the Spanish Riding School.

As the horses are approaching the finish line, not more than 100 yards to run, Crago allows his horse to go forward, with two powerful strides he launches himself over the white fence dividing the finish line, the horse lands, spins right and canters calmly across the finish line before the other racers arrive flat out under the whip.

The bookmakers and punters cry out angrily and approach the starter, they are filthy. How could this be right? He didn’t run the race! By this time the horses and jockeys are arriving back at the finish line after pulling their horses up. “Protest, protest!” comes the call. No one is happy and confusion rules the day.

The starter is unsure of what to make of it, no one had considered this outcome.
Noticing Horden and Mairinger standing interested at the goings-on, the starter calls to the well-known Mr Horden.
“Mr Horden what do you make of this?”
Horden looked to Mairinger “What do you think Franz?”
Mairinger replied, “He did say, ‘start on the left, finish on the right, other than that, no rules’”.
Horden nodded “Indeed he did.” In a loud voice he repeated Mairinger’s statement.
The starter points to Crago an announces “The winner!”
The announcement is met with boos and discontent. Mairinger calls to the starter “Perhaps you should give the other riders the opportunity to ride the same route?”
“Good idea, you heard! Any takers?”
No one came forward.

“Bazaconi” part 15 racehorse, ridinghorse,therapist.

It looked like Bazaconi had found a new calling. He was going to teach people to get in touch with horses and themselves. I’m no therapist, but if what I do with horses can help people, I’m pretty happy.

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Baz is featuring in my journey as a facilitator of equine assisted experiential therapy. I wish there was a softer word than therapy; the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder soldiers had been therapied out of their minds. After the first day at the camp, the participants were blazing around the campfire. Happy smiles with talk developing of new friendships. Friends who knew how you felt and shared in your excitement. It had been a long time since some of these guys had enjoyed this camaraderie.

It is inspiring and Baz had played a big part of it, the soldiers’ knew Bazaconi’s story as well as you do. They related to his torrid life and could see that he had triumphed and become an inspiration to people in their positions.
The retreat at Kangaroo Valley was an absolute success, largely on Bazaconi’s back but with the help of several other beautiful equine therapists. Six out of the seven participants have continued with their equine journey by volunteering at the Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Trust. The change in some of them from the time we met is astonishing.

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Bazaconi is going from strength to strength as a teacher, with me using him to educate our volunteers and staff. He is proving to be a hit at Cana Farm where we deal with disassociated people. Those dealing with addiction, homelessness, refugees, people with mental health issues, ex-prison inmates and others. Cana can see the benefit of horses working with people and Bazaconi is becoming the poster child. It is interesting how people who have dealt with adversity and come out the other side, often become the best mentors for those following similar journeys.

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It seems Baz was just another, putting back into the system that took him in and helped him through. Baz has continued to develop as a riding horse, he is now teaching other riders to sit quietly and consider their reactions. I will continue Bazaconi ‘s education as a riding horse. This year I will take him out to some competitions and I have no doubt that he will do the best he can for me as will I for him. I said I would never let him down and I won’t.

As Bazaconi’s journey continues, I will keep you informed of his progress, thank you for enjoying his story to this point. Your interest is another positive which can be attributed to Bazaconi, raising the awareness of what we do for these magnificent creatures.

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“Bazaconi” part 12, a new direction

When I got bazaconi Home we went back to work.
It was like he hadn’t left. I was considering prepairing him for a dressage competition, I had decided that if I couldn’t tie down a future for him immediately, I would start to compete him. It would be good for the the TRT, it would bring further credibility to the program and improve Baz’s chances of finding another home.
I continued to consolidate his work, the period of light work with the failed new home had been good for him, his back had relaxed, it would be in better physical condition to move on with his education. I started to work on more accurate two track movements, I began to encourage some extension in his trot. He still needed to be ridden proactively at the canter but as long as he felt he was being ridden forward he was pretty good. Eventually his back got strong enough to cope with some longer periods of sitting trot.

At about this time I was due to hold a week long course for ex service personnel suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, it was to be held at the glorious “Cedars at kangaroo valley” I run these courses from time to time it’s considered experiential therapy and helps these guys and girls dramatically, it is quite inspirational. Horses are great teachers

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Bazaconi’s new students, ex service personnel from the “the Cedars equine experience ” kangaroo valley. With facilitators Scott Brodie and Barry digger on the beautiful shire horse, bred at the stud on the property. The equine assisted therapy sessions at the cedars are creating new hope for service personnel suffering the depilitating effects of PTSD. 

How can horses help soldier with PTSD ?
The horse is a social animal existing in extended family groups with complex friendships and relationships. In many ways equine society mimics primitive human society though, unaffected by our modern emotions, 1st world problems and preconceived moral and community boundaries.
Many of our raw natural instincts are still present, bubbling below the surface of the superficial day to day issues of modern life.
Instinct never ceases to exist unless there is a reason for it to do so.
For instance body language which we still use extensively, sometimes subconsciously, is still exhibited and deciphered every day of our lives. Our fight or flight response which is rarely called upon in our daily existence is still strong, under pressure it will rise to the surface.
Horses exhibit and survive by these instincts which for 50 million years have served them well.
There is ample opportunity for humans, when placed in a position where they have to communicate with these majestic, and on the surface completely different beings to get in touch with their primitive, but incredibly similar and influential instinctive responses.
When communicating with horses, humans are forced to get in touch with there ability to read subtle, but once recognised, obvious body language, they need to understand the effects of applying and relieving pressure with a prey animal, who has existed for millennia constantly under the threat of attack by predators, their senses adapted to detect the slightest change in environment or attitude.
The social hierarchy and order in the equine world is complex, for humans to interact successfully we need to slot ourselves into that hierarchy, portray ourselves as leaders and partners rather than threats and danger.
The rules are complex, horses thrive on leadership, contrary to common belief herds are lead by dominant mares they make the decisions and demand the most respect, this respect is often obtained in what we will perceive as extremely violent and aggressive fashion. Strangely this assertive behaviour draws horses to it, earning a strange but powerful reverence.
Working with horses, and recognising the strengths and weaknesses we live with on a day to day basis, helps us to unravel who we are, how we tick and how things that have effected our past lives influence and effect our here and now. Empathy, confidence, communication, assertiveness, respect and friendship are all things taught well by horses with their unaffected way of being, a portal to our long forgotten past which lies just below the surface of our modern un perceptive existence.

I would take a couple of ex racehorses with me to use on the course. The soldiers relate to the issues of the former race horse, both have been trained for a specific purpose only to find at the end of their careers that the training done in the past is negative to their ongoing lives.
I guess you could say Bazaconi suffered from a form of post traumatic stress, certain situation triggered negative reactions which he had no control over,I’m no therapist but I could see the similarities, I knew the soldiers would. Bazaconi would be a great candidate for the course he would be difficult for the soldiers to work with but they need to see some contrast, I decided to take another young horse who was super quite and very easy to handle, this would allow the soldiers to get a win and feel like they had achieved a result. Bazaconi, though difficult, would invoke empathy one of our goals in the course, even if most of them would fail to join up with him they would defiantly recognise and empathise with his issue.

end part 12

“The fairytale that became a nightmare”

Once upon a time there was a beautiful young racehorse he was purchased by horseman who was a racehorse trainer. He didn’t cost much because he hadn’t been very successful. The trainer saw something in him and believed he could get the best out of him.

Horses are expensive to keep, trainers often pass the cost onto owners by selling the horse or a share in it. Thats what this trainer did, he convinced some friends to purchase the horse so he could train him and hopefully have some success for everyone concerned.

The trainer discovered that the horse did his best when allowed to race out in front, so thats what he did. The horse went to the front in all of his races and left it to the rest to catch him. Sometimes he held on, sometimes he didn’t. It is a tough way to race, it knocks horses around. The horse was very successful, he won around 20 races and over a million dollars. Every one was very happy, the owners told everyone what great horsemen they were, because everyone knows, if you own a horse you are a horseman, and if he wins a race you are a good horseman.

The horse raced until he was 8—thats pretty old for a racehorse, the average retirement age is about 3. The horse had done his bit. Eventually the hard work of being a front runner for so long caught up with him. After winning big races in the city he finished last in a country race. The trainer said “thats it he has had enough, he has looked after us, now we should look after him, its time to retire”.

 

The owners didn’t agree, they still hadn’t won the big race they wanted to win. They told the trainer they wanted him to race on, the trainer said “he can’t, based on his last race, there was something wrong with him”. The owners had a vet look over the horse, his joints were fine, the vet said he could see no reason why the horse couldn’t continue to race. The trainer stuck to his guns, he wouldn’t train the horse “I don’t understand” said the owner “its only a race horse and not the best in the world either”. The owners took the horse to another trainer. Aware that the horse may have had a heart or breathing problem, the original trainer was very disappointed, he unfriended the owners never to deal with them again. Only time would tell the fate of this wonderful horse, we could only wish for the fate of the owners. NOT THE END!!!