The hermit and the horse.

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Dee Teevee was nothing out of the ordinary, a typical entrant to our retraining program; a four year old bay gelding, 16 hands. He is so typical of the horses we are given. He had run in a few races, actually showed some promise but his owner was only interested in racing in the city and Dee Teevee was really only a country standard racehorse.

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Bradley photography 

There are lots of horses that don’t make it in the city and end up on a downward spiral from owner to owner to provincial races then country then picnics and God knows where else. Luckily for Dee Teevee, his owner didn’t want this for him and handed him over to us at the Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Trust (TRT). He was an immature looking fella and it never ceases to amaze me what babies most of these horses are when they come to us at the end of their racing careers. This guy still hadn’t finished growing, lots of Thoroughbreds continue to grow into their fifth year. He was nothing to write home about, but he had a lovely, friendly temperament and he had not been ruined by his racing experience. In fact, I would say he had been well handled and had obviously interacted well with whoever had looked after him. He was a people-horse, he wanted to be with you. At the time Billy, as he came to be known, arrived at the TRT, we had just formed a partnership with Cana Farm at Orchard Hills in Sydney’s west. Jill, one of our volunteers, had introduced us to Cana as she volunteered there as well.

Cana is a fantastic place, it is a 40 hectare property where people who have, for some reason or other, been separated from society as we know it, come to enjoy the environment of farm life. They are made up of reformed drug addicts, recent releases from prison, long-term unemployed, homeless and people with mental disabilities. Daryl was one such person. Daryl had had a tough life. He grew up in western Sydney with his single mum and siblings. On Fridays, in a strange Fagonesque way, she would send the kids out to see what they could steal; it was part of the family income. No doubt Darryl’s childhood was nothing like yours or mine and eventually Daryl and his brother progressed to armed holdups, with Daryl developing a serious heroin addiction. At some stage, Daryl’s brother, who had been arrested for some other offence, rolled over to the police and handed them Darryl in return for a lighter sentence. Daryl did a long stint in jail. He had to go cold turkey from his heroin addiction whilst locked in Long Bay Correctional Centre.

Once Darryl was released, his faith in everyone was gone. Darryl retreated to a small flat where he became a hermit. For 14 years, Daryl associated with no one, only surfacing to walk the street and do what needed to be done between 2.00 am and 4.00 am daily. There was no meaningful relationship or even conversation with anyone for 14 years.

Somehow Daryl had ended up at Cana Farm, no one can remember how, but thankfully, somehow he did. Daryl was very prickly. He wasn’t at all eager to mingle, so largely kept to himself. Julie, who runs Cana Farm, remembers he didn’t speak to anyone for nearly 12 months. He referred to her as Miss, as is done in the prison system. Now Julie is not ‘Miss’, Julie is Julie, and every time Daryl called her ‘Miss’ he got a kiss – she was soon Julie.

Cana knows how to work with people like Daryl and he received the counseling and support that he so needed and was welcomed into the community. Cana is not a community as in people live there. They don’t. Community is a lot more than living in a group. It’s belonging to a group who don’t judge you, who care about you and are there to help when you need it. So Daryl was on his way back and he needed something to sink his teeth into. He dabbled in many of the activities that the Farm offers – agriculture, woodwork etc. and as the people from Cana unraveled Daryl’s past, it was revealed that he had had some involvement with horses as a kid. His uncle had trained harness racers and Daryl had done some work around the stables, nothing flash but it was one part of his life that he remembers fondly.

When the partnership between Cana and the TRT struck up, the people at Cana realised it would be a good opportunity for Daryl to take ownership of an important part of the daily operations. Daryl was given responsibly of feeding, watering and generally keeping an eye on the horses. Billy was one of the first to arrive. Billy had just come off the track, he had no social skills and was ostracised by the other horses. Daryl empathised with Billy, after all, he had done his time as a loner. Daryl gave Billy special attention and fed him separately so he didn’t have to fight for his food. Daryl took him out for hours at a time to graze on the lush green grass that grew outside the horse paddock. Billy was happy and so was Daryl and they formed a bond. Daryl began to communicate better with people as he was the horse guy and he told people what they could and couldn’t do with the horses. He had a responsibility and Billy had a protector and friend. For Billy, in his hostile new real horse world, Daryl was Billy’s Cana Farm.

I started to give Daryl some instruction on retraining horses and he relished the chance to work with Billy, to help him find a life after racing.

Billy grew from a gangly immature four year old into a very handsome, solid, confident, five year old. Daryl had handled him well and he responded beautifully to training. Daryl decided that Billy was ready to find a new home, he was too nice a horse to just sit in the paddock doing nothing and unfortunately he wouldn’t fit into Daryl’s flat. So the search for a new home began and Daryl continued to care for Billy, whilst we at the TRT began to school him up for his next career; there was no limit to his potential.

Daryl was now being paid to work at Cana Farm and he has also become involved in the woodworking program where they make furniture from recycled timber. Daryl was meaningfully employed.

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Photo eddy furlong 

Billy’s education progressed well and Daryl took on something of a leader’s roll at Cana Farm, even assisting with mentoring one of the young guys. He was still prickly, but would now communicate well with all comers.

After some time, Billy’s training was completed and soon after, a young girl came to look at him as a future partner. Daryl had always had a view that Billy would be great for a young girl, so he approved. The young girl was a very tidy little rider and her mum supported her in her showing so it looked like the perfect match for Billy.

Unfortunately, as is common these days, the family had had a break up, mum was now looking after five kids, all very active in sports. Mum was flat out, the budget was tight so the four wheel drive and float had to be sold and trying to find money for Billy would be difficult. I could see that this would be a good home and more importantly, Daryl agreed.

Daryl was a bit confronting for people from the other side of the tracks, but he soon showed mum and daughter how much he loved the horse and gave them his approval.
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                                                                     Photo eddy furlong

After a few visits the decision was made, Billy would go to his new home, Daryl was beaming, and there was definitely some sense of accomplishment from a fella who had had no sense of accomplishment in his life. Both Billy and Daryl were better for the experience.

Now there were financial issues. We sell our retrained horses for $5000 with the money made going back into the program. The potential new owners couldn’t come up with the funds immediately but asked if they could go on some sort of a payment plan. Unfortunately I don’t hold the purses strings and this is not something that I am able to facilitate.

I remembered how honourable and fair to the horse the previous owner, Alec Leopold, had been. He was always very keen to see Dee Teevee looked after and had even paid for his keep until a position came up at the TRT. So I decided to get in touch with him. I sent Alec an email in the hope that he might provide some assistance for Dee Teevee’s future and to Alec’s credit, he immediately came back and said he would cover the cost of Billy’s rehoming. Well, there were tears all around. Mum cried, the girl cried, even Daryl geared up a little. What a great gesture from a good man, if only all owners of racehorses showed this responsibility.
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Just before Billy left, Daryl got the chance to ride billy. He hadn’t had the joy of riding since he worked with his uncle 37 years previously. He was nervous to start, but by the end he was all smiles .
I will always remember the picture of Daryl sitting up there on his mate Billy; this job of mine is so much more than horses.

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                                                               Photo jill Moore

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.

Horses from courses UK tour.

Since the release of my book, Horses from Courses, last year, I have found myself much more involved in the retraining of people than ever before in conjunction with retraining of ex-racehorses. This is where the future of the OTTB (Off the track Thoroughbred) rests, in the hands of those willing to put the effort into assuring there is somewhere to go and something to do at the end of the horses’ racing careers.

On my recent trip to the UK, I was able to take part in an exchange of ideas with some of the longest serving and best known Thoroughbred retraining and rehoming programs in the world.
I visited the Godolphin Retraining Centre at Newmarket England, where I toured the facility and gave a somewhat impromptu demonstration of my Horses from Courses/TRT (Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Trust) training system.

Godolphin, from my experience, is the most responsible Thoroughbred racing and breeding organisation in the world. They do everything they can to ensure their horses are well looked after from birth to death.

The Godolphin Retraining Centre has 12 horses in work at any one time with a small paid staff, as do we at TRT, and like us, numerous invaluable volunteers.

Godolphin has knowledgeable and committed staff, as do all rehoming programs. Whilst there, I did some work with the staff and a couple of horses, introducing them to my simple systematic approach to retraining and as I always explain, I have invented nothing. All I have done is take a very effective and relevant training technique and put it into an order which by virtue of its simplistic step by step nature, makes retraining horses off the track simple, effective and efficient. You don’t take the next step until you have solidified the previous step.

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Godolphin fund the program at Newmarket and horses are virtually given away at the end of their training. Only a very well funded organisation, with a serious conscience, can and will do what Godolphin do for their horses.

Next stop was Lambourn, two hours drive south where I met with Di Arbothnot the CEO of ROR (Retraining of Racehorses). This organisation is committed to the cause with a strong focus on developing the perception in the less accepting UK market that Thoroughbreds can do well in the general equestrian world. ROR is privately funded through sponsorship and donations and they run competitions specifically for Thoroughbreds as well as training clinics for those interested in rehoming. Di introduced me to Grace Muir  at the HEROS (Homing Ex-Racehorses Organisation Scheme) organisation. HEROS retrain ex-racehorses and find them new homes. The horses from HEROS go out on a lease arrangement and are followed up throughout their lives after racing.

At Lambourn, I gave a full demonstration to the ROR and HEROS staff and it was very well received. The educated horse people of these organisations saw immediately the simplicity of my system and recognised its value for the retraining community.

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I have been invited back to do some training with their staff and run a clinic and demonstration for the general public. The horse I worked at Lambourn had been diagnosed with kissing spine. This seems to be the most recent catch phrase amongst the equine community in the UK. Put simply, horses who don’t carry themselves correctly, engaging their core and lifting up toward the carried weight, finish up with hollowed backs which in time can lead to the process of the spine compacting, thus causing discomfort and pain. I am, as was Grace at HEROS, a strong believer that correct riding and training can eliminate the oinset of kissing spine and go very far to rectifying the problem should it already exist. Had I not been told about the horse’s diagnosis, I would never have guessed, as when asked to hold himself correctly, there were no symptoms.

My final equine engagement was with the IHWT (Irish Horse Welfare Trust) at balcultry stables in Swords, just north of Dublin City. As with England, Ireland has a perception issue with the idea of using Thoroughbreds for purposes other than racing. Their rich equine heritage, spanning back thousands of years, has seen the development of horses for every purpose. The niches filled by Thoroughbreds in Australia are well serviced by several different types of purpose-bred animals. Along with developing an accepting OTTB market, IHWT recognise the need for training and support of those who are interested in taking a horse off the track.

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I presented a demonstration/clinic to a committed and focused audience. Working with one horse who had already had some work after racing, who exhibited the familiar traits of those we receive at the TRT, had already been started by those well-meaning, but maybe not quite as qualified as required, owners/riders. I often describe these horses as a handful of tangled fishing line; it can be difficult to unravel the tangles already created. The horse was very nice, as were his new owners and with commitment to what I showed on the day, they should finish with a good result.

The second horse was straight out of racing and presented a great opportunity to show the effectiveness of my training system. He was a dream and flowed along through the process without incident. It’s often embarrassing how simple the system can be and it was good that everyone knew I had never seen the horse before the clinic. They may have otherwise questioned whether I had spent several sessions with the horse tuning him to my methods.

Overall the tour was a great experience, I met very well meaning horse people I hope to work with in the future. I was made aware of the variations of circumstances facing the Thoroughbred rehoming communities in different countries. And I came away confident that my ‘Horses from Courses’ retraining system holds up very well on the international stage. It made me very proud of my staff and volunteers at the TRT. Thanks to all of you for your ongoing efforts.

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

Different strokes for different folks. Varying strategies for thoroughbred re homing organisations

On my recent trip to the UK, I was astounded to see variations in horse cultures from countries with a common ancestry. I would like to discuss specifically, the variations in relation to the perceptions of the Thoroughbred horse and how those perceptions and history influence the best practices for organisations committed to the welfare of horses at the conclusion of their racing careers.

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Until  recently 95% of police horses in Australia were thoroughbred

In Australia, the Thoroughbred has always been recognised as a competitive equestrian and pleasure horse, as well as a supreme racing athlete. The Thoroughbred is a relatively new breed of horse, beginning its development only 400 years ago and has been in Australia for the country’s entire equestrian history. It is the foundation of the only recognised Australian breed, the Australian Stock Horse.

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The all purpose Australian stock horse sports some of the best thoroughbred blood lines in the world

Up until only 20 years ago, Thoroughbreds were double registered as Stock Horses and Thoroughbreds. The Stock Horse foundation has some of the best racing blood in the world. When Australia burst onto the international equestrian scene, they did so on the Thoroughbred. Our second Olympic Games, brought us three equestrian medals; two gold and silver all on the backs of Thoroughbreds. image

The highly successful Australian olypic team from Rome 1960 all ride thoroughbred horses 

From that time forward, the Thoroughbred has been the backbone of Australian equestrianism. Up until recently, the Thoroughbred was trained to the highest level in dressage, show jumping and eventing. The introduction in any serious way of the European Warmblood and other foreign breeds is relatively new, occurring in the last 30 years or so.

A market for the Thoroughbred exists and always has. Some damage to the market has been done by the introduction of the foreign breeds, but largely, Australia appreciates and utilises the abilities of the Thoroughbred. The focus for the rehoming of Thoroughbreds in Australia needs to be education of riders, particularly those who have been influenced by the current fashion of the foreign breeds. Professional retraining of Thoroughbred horses, in numbers that can supply the hungry market and to a lesser extent, the renewed promotion of the Thoroughbred as a competition and leisure horse.

The UK has an historic and rich horse culture that goes way back before the advent of the Thoroughbred. In fact, in the 10,000 years of history of the UK, the Thoroughbred is a very new addition. Breeds have, over the millennia in the UK, been developed for specific purposes, such as, war horses, Draft breeds, riding breeds, carrying and carriage breeds.

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Purpose bred horses in the equestrian environment of the UK. Top left the Irish sport horse, top right Spanish breeds found there way into the UK with the Romans. Bottom right the ancient Cleveland bay developed as a load carrying horse.

The original English-bred horses were combined with an infusion of Arabian blood only recently, to develop the speed and stamina of the modern Thoroughbred. The Thoroughbred has not been needed for any specific purpose, other than racing.

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Only in recent times were these three foundation stallions added to the equestrian landscape in order to develop the modern thoroughbred.

So in the UK, the Thoroughbred is a racehorse, the Irish sport horse is great for jumping, hunting and eventing, the European Warmbloods and Spanish breeds suit dressage, with various breeds of ponies and mixtures of the aforementioned breeds having served as pleasure horses. There has been no need to bring the Thoroughbred into the equation.

Now with large numbers of Thoroughbreds leaving the racing industry and with greater expectation of the population in relation to horse welfare, Thoroughbred rehoming organisations in the UK need to promote the use of the Thoroughbred in the various equestrian fields. Money is being spent promoting competitions featuring Thoroughbred classes and awards are given for Thoroughbreds excelling in open competition. This needs to be the main focus of this rehoming market, but it needs to happen in tandem with an educational focus giving potential Thoroughbred owners the tools and support needed to make the rehoming of these ex-racehorses an enjoyable experience.

So two surprisingly different market places. Australia with an existing market, requiring a focus on education and supply to the market and the UK still in the process of developing an accepted and viable market, but also with a requirement for education and support for that market.
I have been retraining Thoroughbreds for nearly 30 years and it wasn’t until I visited the UK recently with a focus on Thoroughbred rehoming, that I became aware of the acute differences in the horse cultures and the varying requirements in the field of Thoroughbred rehoming throughout the world.

Each market must be assessed and focused on the most relevant issues in its unique environment. There is no doubt that each market in each country with a thoroughbred industry will face its own challenges and must develop strategies to siut their particular needs.

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Education, training and support are esential elements of any thoroughbred re homing program . 

Largely, I think a three-pronged approach of establishing a market, producing a product and then developing an industry around the development of the product, is the way forward for the Thoroughbred racehorse. Rehoming industry, these three elements will be required in all environments but each in varying portions determined by the individual market places.

Personally, I am happy to be involved in such a worthy cause in a positive way, it’s disappointing to see some of the passionate anti-racing organisations wasting their energies in a negative way, rather than working positively to produce a better outcome for horses at the end of their racing careers.

 

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.

Part 12 “Mirrabooka” horseman of the southern cross

Over the following weeks, Mairinger had the complete attention and dedication of the four men and horses. The practical lesson at the train track had done the trick, and now the men were open and ready to learn the finer points of the art of riding.

When one has been successful at what one does, it is very difficult to surrender to the idea that it may be worth changing one’s mindset in order to rise to another level, but the men had handed themselves over to their coach – it was all or nothing. Soon they began to apply the dressage lessons taught by Franz in a practical sense to their jumping and they were all becoming truly formidable, competitive riders and at this rate, they could challenge the world.

The day arrived to load the horses aboard the ship, which would transfer them to Europe for the final preparations leading into the Rome Olympics. The men and horses had been worked hard in preparation up to this point, so they could use a break and the boat trip should be just the trick.

“Won’t it be a blessing to have some time off riding?” asked Lavis, “I could use the break. How long do you reckon it’ll take to get these buggers fit again once we get there?”

Horses are prone to travel sickness and many had been lost at sea over the years. In another time, our ancestors on their battle ships, would cross tie horses and exercise them in Piaf to keep them fit and occupied.

“After a trip like this and being locked up for 10 weeks, I just hope they don’t get crook.” replied Roycroft.

As Mairinger approached, Crago made the point, “The fellas are a bit worried about how the horses will cope with the voyage Franz.”
Morgan joined in, and as always, preparation was foremost in his mind. “Will we have time to get ‘em fit once we get there? I reckon we’ll be pushing it and they reckon it’s bloody hot and humid in Rome. How do we get them to acclimatise? They’ve still got winter coats and we won’t be able to clip ‘em until we arrive.”
Mairinger, unfazed and calm addressed his Team, “Gentleman follow me, you might like to inspect the stabling area.”

The men followed Mairinger into the belly of the ship. They arrived in a cavernous area adjoining the engine room where a line of portable stables had been set up in order to house the horses. A small riding area, oval in shape about 20 x 30 yards had been erected. The heat and humidity was immediately apparent and the noise from the engines was rhythmic and punishing.

There was concern amongst the men and Morgan stepped up, “You must be joking, you can’t bring horses down here. I feel like I’m gonna pass out now. I’m happy to work, but how can we possibly work down here?”

Just standing there saw beads of sweat form on the men’s foreheads.

Morgan continued, “You tell ‘em Franz, this just isn’t on, they’ve gotta find somewhere else.”

A uniformed employee of the shipping company approached Mairinger, “I trust the conditions are as you requested Mr. Mairinger?”
Morgan starts back at him, “No, as a matter of fact, they’re not and what do you mean requested?”

As drops of sweat dripped from their confused faces, the men looked to Mairinger. Surely he had not requested this location to work the horses?

“This will be perfect thank you.” replied Mairinger.

The employee left quickly and was happy to get out of the noisy, hot environment.

By the end of this journey gentlemen, our horses and yourselves will be prepared for the worst heat and humidity that a Roman summer can offer and the roar of the crowd will seem but a whisper. The 1960 Roman Olympics will come but once. Every minute between now and when we compete at these Games, must be utilised. We have but one chance to get this right.

Morgan piped up, “So I reckon this isn’t gonna be a pleasure cruise, Franz? Suits me.”
“I’m afraid not Laurie, it will be work as usual.”
Morgan took off his shirt, leaving him only in his undershirt, “Well then, I reckon we’d better get stuck into it.”
The rest of the men followed by removing their shirts down to their singlets and proceeded to tend to their horses.
Mairinger called to them, “Splendid gentlemen, shall we say dinner tonight at six? We’ll talk then.”

The men had committed themselves to Mairinger and though they would not generally work horses in this environment, it sounded as though there was method to his madness.

Mairinger was seated at a dinner table, awaiting the arrival of the other men.

Crago is next to arrive, “Sorry we’re a bit late Franz. Mirrabooka hasn’t settled as well as Neil would have liked.”
“And Neil?” Mairinger enquired.
“Yeah, he sends his apologies Franz. He’s gonna stay with Mirrabooka tonight, just till he settles in. We told him we’d bring him down some dinner.”
The four men sit waiting to be served, all four feel a little guilty at their comfortable surroundings whilst Neil was down at the stables tending to his horse on an empty stomach. The men inspect the menu, “Grub looks good, doesn’t it fellas?” asked Morgan.
The silence was deafening.
Eventually Roycroft piped up, “You know what fellas, if you don’t mind too much, I might give it a miss.”
“You’re not hungry Bill? Is something the matter?” enquired Mairinger.
As Roycroft got up from the table he answered, “No, I’m fine Franz, I just might give it a miss tonight and get some food down to Neil. I think I might keep him company tonight.”
Morgan also came to his feet, “Hey we’re a bloody Team. You get the grub Bill, Brian and me will get our sleeping kits. If young Neil’s sleepin’ down there tonight with his horse, so will we mate. Sorry Franz, if you’ll excuse us.”
Mairinger scraped back his chair and stood, “No I won’t excuse you men, I’ll join you. As you said, we’re a Team.”

The five men, with an assortment of pillows, blankets and makeshift beds, sat around on the floor of the stable block, eating the food they had carried from the dining room. The horses stood with their heads out of their stables seeming to be joining in on the makeshift campsite.

During the period of travel on the ship, the men and horses worked with a renewed intensity. There was an air of motivation, exaggerated by the extreme conditions and the certainty that no one else would be putting in the effort that they were.

Over time, the combinations became accustomed to the difficult conditions. It was certainly a stroke of genius by Franz to continue the schooling on board the ship. The hot conditions would no doubt help with acclimatisation and this certainly would give the horses an advantage when working in the humid hot conditions in Rome. At times, the horses in the arena seemed to work to the rhythm of the pounding engines, the rhythmic commotion had become nothing but background noise and the horses worked harmoniously as though they were in the serenity of their home arena.

Work in hand is used extensively to develop greater collection of the horses and they were working well above the level required for the Dressage phase of the 3 Day Event. Mirrabooka and Neil Lavis had come along in leaps and bounds and Franz could see that with work and time, they could make a formidable combination, even at Grand Prix level.

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The voyage was finally over with the horses arriving in England. In the unloading process, it could be seen that they were supremely fit and keen to get out and stretch their legs in a more natural environment. This was a delicate time, as an injury now could derail the entire effort. Morgan was supervising the operations of disembarkation and was bordering on rude with his direction to the dockworkers. The first horse on dock and the last horse on deck would be the most difficult, as for a short period, each horse would be left alone.

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Roycroft’s horse, Sabre, was first to be unloaded and was agitated and whinnied loudly. However, Bill with his confident handling, controlled the situation until the next stable mate joined him on dry land. Mirrabooka was the last to disembark and it didn’t come as much of a shock, that as long as his man Neil was with him, he remained calm and relaxed. The job was complete and the men were very relieved.

Sam Horden had arrived to meet the men and their precious cargo. “Welcome to England gentleman, I trust you have had a relaxing journey, recharged the batteries?”
Roycroft responded tongue in cheek, “Yeah, if you reckon riding a horse in the pit of hell is restful, then we’ve had a ball.”
Horden continued, “Well that’s all over now gentlemen, I hope you haven’t been too hard on them Franz. Anyway, you have all been invited to a fox hunt at the Duke of Doncaster’s country estate, it will give the horses a chance to have a stretch and you fellows to get a little fresh air.”
“Thank Christ” exclaimed Lavis, “that fella of mine is jumping out of his skin.”
Mairinger was quick to respond, “I’m sorry Sam, that is out of the question, these horses have not galloped in 10 weeks, to take them on a hunt would be tempting disaster. There will be no hunt.”
Horden replied, “I don’t think you understand Franz, this is a political situation. We are in England with the Duke’s support and he has influenced the Australian Olympic Committee quite a bit. We can’t afford to offend him.
“I’m sorry Sam, but I am responsible for the performance of this Team – there will be no hunt.”
Horden continued with an air of authority, “Franz, without the Duke, there would be no Team. I don’t think you realise how hard it has been to get us here, they’d much rather be spending the money on runners or swimmers – certain medalists.”

Franz was not impressed at the pressure being applied; after all, he had only the welfare of the horses in mind.

Morgan is infuriated by the insinuation that the Equestrian Team don’t have just as good a chance as any other Australian competitor at taking a medal. “You can tell the Olympic Committee that when we get our medals, we will shove them up …” Horden quickly interjects, “No one is saying you can’t do it Laurie. I understand the preparation that has gone in but the expense cannot be disregarded and any support we can get is very important.”

Mairinger realised there would need to be a compromise. He has been with Horden since before the first Team and is acutely aware of the personal effort and expense Sam had put into the project. “Very well, we will attend the hunt, but no horse will gallop and we will jump no more than a hay bail.”

“Thanks Franz, I would never doubt your judgment all we need to do is turn up.”

For the competitive Australian riders and horses, just turning up would be more of a challenge than riding flat out. It would be a day for control and discipline.