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.

image

“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.

image
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.

A diamond in the rough. Finding the hidden horseman

 

.

image

When I first started working with the inmates at St Heliers prison, I would go up for a week at a time in order to train the inmates in the skills required for them to do their part in the retraining of the ex-racehorses from the Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Trust. Horses donated to the Trust, go to St Heliers to let down before we commence working them. Most racehorses, when they leave the track, have had no socialisation since they left their mums as foals. Generally, for most, if not all of their lives, they are wrapped in cotton wool, stabled and spelled in individual yards so they don’t get hurt. Because of this, they miss out on learning the critical social skills required to be a horse. Imagine keeping a kid in an isolated room, sometimes letting him see other kids, but not allowing him to play, touch or interact. You feed him what he needs, you keep him immaculately cleaned and healthy in the body, lock him up from say, one until twelve years of age, give him very little education and no communication skills and then send him to high school. The result would be terrible for the kid. Well that’s where a racehorse often is at the end of his racing days. At St Heliers, we have big paddocks where we put five or six horses in together, often with a horse that has already been socialised or better still, an old tough draught horse. Let the old fella teach the young fellas how it’s done.

image

Once they have had six months of lessons from the other horses and time to let down from racing, the inmates start to work with them. The inmates do around six weeks with each horse; natural horsemanship for want of a better word. Work in hand and lunging usually, no riding. The inmates do courses at the local TAFE in horse management, stable maintenance, farriery etc. In the first group of inmates I was involved with, there was a guy named Digger. Digger was a nice bloke, very polite and respectful – a fair effort when you consider I am an ex-copper. Digger was there when I gave all of the boys as a group, a lecture on what we do, how we do it and what was expected of them. Digger was quiet when I started to work hands-on with the horses. He stood back and carefully watched what I was doing and unlike some of the other boys, he wasn’t going to tell me what he knew and what he had done. Digger was fit with a hard look about him, and between you and me, about 10 kgs lighter than he is now. He seemed to have respect around the place, he was a trainer who worked out in the gym, did some boxing, and was always eating an egg to get his protein intake up. Gradually I got to work with all of the guys and Digger was one of the last. I asked him what he knew about horses and he told me he had done a bit with them as a kid. So Digger comes into the round yard with a horse they had christened Cranky. Now I knew Cranky’s reputation, the inmates didn’t know that as a racehorse, he was known as Evil. Cranky had his ears back constantly whenever a person was around and he would turn his backside to you if you went near him. He had bitten one inmate on the head, causing a nasty gash and scaring him out of the program. Digger was in the round yard working with Cranky under my instruction. He had chosen Cranky as his horse as he knew he had issues and had felt sorry for him. We were in the yard working on getting Cranky to lunge in a halter; he kept stopping and presenting his backside to Digger. Now Digger was very passive towards the horse and he needed some assertiveness. Eventually, with a bit of instruction, Cranky was lunging around the yard but quickly knocked up and decided he had had enough so he put the breaks on and was going nowhere. Very passively, Digger tried to encourage him forward, I gave him the spiel, be as firm as you need to be but as soft as you can be. Digger was too soft, not what you would expect for a tough bloke who had been in and out of prison all his life. I tried to talk him into a little more assertiveness, but he just wasn’t getting a result. After a while of ignoring Digger’s efforts to get him to go forward, Cranky decided to back up. Well that was it! Digger flogged him with the lunge whip and Cranky surged forward out of control, “Steady mate, steady.” I called to Digger, “Whoa, whoa.” I preceded to explain that there are a lot of grey areas between black and white and you need to just do what needs to be done, not over do it. Digger was red faced, fired up and a little embarrassed. In jail, you can’t let anyone get on top of you. This was the issue I assumed, conditioned reflex when someone is having a go at you, attack is the best line of defence. I went back to the hotel that night and couldn’t get that episode out of my mind. Digger had a very good feel and he could make a horseman but he needed to learn to control his emotions. The more I thought about it, the more I thought to myself, ‘I bet this is the way he leads his life. It’s probably why he finished up in jail.’ The next morning at the prison, I had decided that Digger could make a horseman and I was going to do my best to make it happen. Digger came up to me at the beginning of the day while I was standing by myself and said, “You know what happened yesterday? That’s how I live my life, that’s how I got here.” Who would have thought?…. We sat down and talked about him and where he had come from and Digger started to loosen up. He had a long-term girlfriend, whom he was loyal and seriously committed to and they had a son. At some stage, Digger’s good mates had started to warn Digger that they felt his misses was up to something shifty. Initially they didn’t go into detail, but told him to keep an eye on things. Digger wasn’t concerned, as he couldn’t see any issues and life went on. A mate started to warn him that another mate may be making some moves on his girl and Digger wouldn’t have it, “He is a good mate, he wouldn’t do that to me.” And after all, he trusted his girl. His mates kept giving him the heads up but he didn’t believe it and didn’t want to believe it and he did nothing proactive, didn’t raise it and went on with his life. One night his girl was staying away from home, they had been having a few issues, but she had sworn there was no-one else. Early in the morning, a mate turned up at Digger’s house and forced him to get into his car, “You need to see this.” he said. He drove Digger to where his girl was staying and he went into the house and saw his mate’s wallet on the table. He then found his wife in bed with his best mate, All his denial became an uncontrollable rage and basically he flogged the guy to within and inch of his life. Digger got eight years for the assault, which they also called a home invasion. Some would say, “There but for the grace of God go I.” The reality of the situation was that had Digger taken some action earlier, instead of doubting the honesty of his mates, he would probably not be in jail. Sure the relationship might have been over, but he would be out on the street. In a much smaller way, this is what Digger had done with the horse the day before. Digger told me he had worked as a stockman in the Northern Territory and Western Australia, “The things I have seen done to horses I won’t even tell you about, but I always believed there was a better way. I like what you do and I want to learn how to do it.” he said. Digger had committed and I could tell that his loyalty would not allow him to let the horses, or me, down. He decided to stick with Cranky and committed to him as well. Long before I had turned up, even though Cranky had some bad traits, Digger believed there was good in him and he was going to prove it to everyone. It was about a month when I returned to the prison for my next visit and I was working in the yard with a horse. Digger was standing watching from outside, with a horse standing quietly beside him with its head basically resting on Digger’s shoulder.

image

Eventually, my focus went from the horse I was working on to Digger. “That’s not Cranky?” I enquired. “Yep,” came the reply with a cheeky proud smile, “that’s him.” “No way!” I replied in awe, “I can’t believe it!” This guy was a horseman, some people are born with it. Digger had been taken off track by outside influences and he would always have to control his temper, but he had what it took, he could get inside a horse’s head. Digger became the backbone of the program in prison, as he was passionate and committed.

image

I decided that when he got out, I would employ him immediately, but I hadn’t seen him ride. When Digger had about two months to go on his sentence, I turned up with a saddle. “I want to see you ride.” I said. He was apprehensive about getting into a dressage saddle as he was used to a big western or stock job. Digger had become an expert at working in hand and I knew all he needed was to learn to sit still and he would ride as good as anyone. I put him up on Cranky, “Okay, put your legs here, sit up straight, relax your shoulders.” he did this well, “Now just do the same things you have been doing on the ground.” Cranky rounded into a nice frame, he bent calmly around Digger’s inside leg and walked off in a dressage frame. By the end of the lesson, Digger and Cranky could have won a preliminary dressage test – really! This was the horse’s first ride off the track and Digger’s first time in a dressage saddle and I couldn’t have been prouder. Digger now had two months to work on his riding before he would be released. I left Cranky with him, I couldn’t have done a better job myself so why would I take the horse away? Digger came to work with us at the TRT.

image

                                                    Digger part of the team

On his first day, we did an exhibition at Equitana Sydney, what a culture shock. From the prison with a few inmates, all just existing from day to day, to assisting in front of a crowd of hundreds in a team that was earning respect. Digger took it in his stride and I think he felt he had arrived where he needed to be. Digger worked with us for two years, training dozens of horses.

image

                            Digger re trained dozens of ex racehorses with the TRT

He finished Cranky’s training and we found him very good home. Digger had completed a farrier’s course in prison therefore saving us tens of thousands in shoeing costs. Unfortunately, we don’t pay that well.

imageimage

                                       Cranky once his retraining was complete

Digger had a new girlfriend who had a couple of kids. She had been the wife of a mate whom he was looking after, who had died of cancer. She was a great lady and really good for Digger, eventually one thing led to another and they became a couple. Digger was being loyal to his mate in looking after his wife and kids and she had a good man. They had a child and eventually Digger had to move on. He needed to make the money he could, working for himself. He had given me two good years on the outside and became a great mate.

image

Digger would do anything for me as I would for him. I wished him all the best and off he went, he now works for himself as a farrier and horse trainer. Recently he helped me out at a course for soldiers coming home from conflict with PTSD, I can’t tell you how proud I was of him. He was a teacher and I heard him give the same advice that I had given him, “Be as firm as you need to be, but as soft as you can be.”

imageimage

                               Digger up the front with the soldiers he is a teacher

Irish/Arabian hospitality

Today I present for the Irish horse welfare trust in swords just out of Dublin. The hospitality of the Irish has been fenominal. I have visited numerous studs trainers and horse facilities. The horse culture is rich, historical and varied. It’s a whole different ball game to down under. I will do everything I can to promote the fact that thoroughbreds can make it any field, traditionally they have not been the choice of most Irish riders largely because of the variety of purpose bred horses over here.

image

I have to thank the Godolphin/Darley organisation for what they have done for me while I have been away they are the pinical of professionalism in thoroughbred training and breeding, if everyone followed their lead in training and management the world would be a better place for horses. Of course it’s nice to have sheik Mahammad funding things but the reality is racing is a rich mans sport if you can’t afford to manage and treat horses correctly you shouldn’t be in the game.image

            Be. Our diggs at Godolphins Kildangan stud in Ireland 

image

godolphin Darley head and shoulders above the rest in breeding training and caring for thoroughbred horses 

part 10 Mirrabooka horseman of the southern cross.

Samuel Horden stood at the gate to the property, which will host the training camp, where the men will spend some intense training-time with
Franz Mairinger before leaving for Europe. Horden was best known as a stockbroker and grazier he was an outstanding businessman and had played major roles in the forming of the royal agricultural society and it offiliation  with the Australian Olympic comity. Horden was a good looking man 6.5 in height he was well liked and had served his country In numerous theatres of war, he had been a champion rower in his day so understood the commitment needed by athletes to succeed at a high level. Horden was a good negotiator and fundraiser he had set his sights on putting Australia on the map as an equestrian nation. His love of horses and the land his experience as a competitor ,soldier, leader and innovator together with his business prowess would give the Australian team the best support in achieving their goals .

image

Horden greets the riders, “Good afternoon gentlemen and welcome. I trust that the past five days have been productive?”

Roycroft answers, “G’day Sam,  you should’ve come mate, you missed out on a good ride.”
In approval, Mairinger adds, “The last five days have been more than productive, not only for the Team, but also for me.”

The men like Horden they will grow to love him as a mate and Stalwart of their cause. There is nothing about him not to like, he confirms that he has completed the task he had been assigned, “Splendid then. Franz, everything is just as you asked for. The stables and accommodation are ready and the grooms have been briefed on the schedule for the next seven weeks.”

“Excellent.” Mairinger replied, “Gentlemen, we shall have four days rest and then we will commence the next phase of our preparation.”

The men had survived on rations for the last five days and were keen to get some decent food into their bellies.

Unsaddling his horse, Crago announces, “After I’ve put this fella away, I’m gonna take a nice long bath and I reckon a steak and a nice cold beer should hit the spot.”

Horden addresses the men as a group, “Franz has Olympic Committee commitments tonight, so gentlemen please give me the honour of taking you out to dinner and you can tell me all about the past five days.”

Roycroft responds, “Sounds like a date Samuel my son.”

The four Team members, along with their horses, follow a groom, who has taken Mairinger’s horse. Horden, now alone with Franz states, “It’s seven weeks this Wednesday Franz, that we load up to sail to Europe. What are your thoughts on the men? Do we have enough time?”

“The pure love for the horse that Brian showed us at the last Olympics is just as strong in all of these men. Their natural ability and bravery is equal to or better than any rider I have seen. These four men are true horsemen in every sense of the word. The cross country and jumping will come naturally to all of them. It’s the dressage, that is our biggest challenge Samuel.”

“There were more advanced dressage riders to pick from Franz.
Albert Canes had finished in the top 10 in dressage at events in Europe last year. Do you think we should have put in higher ranked dressage riders?”

“Not at all Sam, Dressage is a technical discipline, but to be successful at the highest level, the rider and horse must be as one. Therefore the connection must be absolute and these four men have such a connection.”

“So I’d be right in thinking our dressage arena will be fully utilised in the coming weeks?”
“I believe it will Sam, I believe it will.”

The mood was relaxed and jovial that night, when the Team dined with Horden. Lavis was telling a story of one of Mairinger’s encounters with kangaroos, “You should have seen the look on Franz’s face! Those two big reds stuck with him, they were nearly as tall as his horse! No matter how hard he galloped, they just bounded along beside him, eventually he pulled up and they kept going. I nearly fell off my horse laughing.”

All the men laugh at the thought of poor Franz unaccustomed to these strange animals. Trying to outrun them to no avail.

The laughter ended, with Roycroft raising a question to Horden that he and Morgan had discussed numerous times but had never come up with a satisfactory answer, “So tell me Anthony, you’re a pretty successful businessman. What’s made you want to put all this effort into this Team? I know you don’t get any money from it, in Fact I’m  told its cost you plenty, So what’s the go?”

Crago chimes in, “Yeah mate, I’ve always wondered what the driving force behind you was. Why are you so passionate about this?”

The entire table waits for Horden’s response.

Horden answered them, “during the war a great mate of mine was an intelligence  Officer stationed in Austria.  His unit unit was seconded to the Yanks, Patton’s Third Army. He got to know the old man pretty well. He said he didn’t think he had ever met or was likely to  meet another man like him. He was a one of a kind fellas, and tough, they didn’t get any tougher. Anyway, the old man gets an urgent message that the Spanish Riding School and its Lipizzaner horses are in imminent danger and they’re coming to see him. Now what I didn’t know, not only is Patton an avid horseman, he’s an Olympian.

Morgan interjects, “What? General George Patton rode at the Olympics?”

“1912 Games, Laurie, to be exact.”

“Well I’ll be buggered.”

Horden continued, “so my mate tells me, the head of the Riding School, Major Alois Podhajsky, turns up with three riders, all on these magnificent white stallions. Now Podhajsky tells the old man that the stud farm for the Riding School is under threat from the advancing red army. The Ruskies are starving, eating everything in their path, including horses. If something’s not done that’s the end of these horses and the School. Well before Patton gives an answer, Podhajsky and his riders put on a display. Now just before it ends, the riders leave the area and all that’s left is this one rider and his horse. The old man stands and focuses in on them. It seemed as though time had stood still. A silence came over the place. The rider then performed the airs above the ground.”

Roycroft comments “Airs above the ground, that is as good as it gets.”

The airs above the ground are the ultimate exercises in riding and can only be performed by the best of the best combination. The horse must be trained to the ultimate level in strength and obedience. The levade, where the horse sits and takes so much weight on his hind quarters that he no longer need his front legs to support him and he gently raises this front legs from the ground and balances with incredible strength and control for moments as the rider sits still not interfering in this moment of perfection. This is very different to a rear, where a horse, in a backward movement, pushes himself up with locked out hind legs, similar to a pole vaulter’s pole. This is about leverage, the levade is the equivalent physically of a gymnast on the rings holding himself in a cross position, arms extended.

image

The courbette where the horse takes that collection from the levade and in a controlled fashion, jumps forward on his hind legs like a kangaroo landing again and again in the levarde position with as many as ten leaps and lands, at the end he walks on as though he has done nothing special.

image

The capriole where the collection in the levade is exploded in one mighty effort as the horse leaps from the ground to its absolute maximum height and at the very top of the leap, he kicks out with his hind legs extended. Very few men or horses can carry out all three of these magnificent movements.

image

Horden continued with his story, “Both horse and man seemed as one, something my mate never forgot It really effected him and no doubt Patton as well . There was no doubt they were in the presence of greatness; he said they may as well have been at an exhibition by Leonardo deVinci with the man himself, or at an intimate performance by Mozart. Well Patton addressed Podhajsky, with tears in his eyes , ‘There are things in this world of such beauty that must be protected at all costs.’ He told podhasjky but he was preaching to the converted there.

image

And the rider who performed the solo for patten ? Well he was
Franz Mairinger. As a result of Franz’s performance, Patton mounted an operation he named “Cowboy”. They went into Yugoslavia, where the stud was located and rescued all the mares and foals, therefore saving the breed. My mate met Franz afterward and stayed in touch after the war. When he heard he was immigrating to Australia and told me, I knew that his brilliance as a horseman couldn’t be wasted, he is an artist of the finest quality and I was certain that that artistry was what we needed to compete at the highest level in equestrian sport. We had never competed at international level and the Melbourne games were coming up, so I made it a bit of a mission to get Franz involved he jumped at the chance and now I’m as tied up in it as you blokes.”
The mood at the table changed to one of reflection and awe, the men had learnt something about Franz that they hadn’t known. In his modesty, he had chosen not to brag, as most men would have, of his performance for Patton. This impressed Morgan no end. He had always found, in all of his sporting endeavours, that the quiet men are the ones to watch, as they speak with action rather than words.

Part 9 Mirrabooka horseman of the southern cross.

The men woke the next morning to the raucous sound of the native birds made up of currawongs, lorikeets, kookaburras and white cockatoos. The sound was deafening and beautiful all at once and very foreign to Mairinger. In no time, the camp was packed up and the men mounted and ready to resume their journey.

Mairinger gazed up at the steep, seemingly impassable walls of the escarpment. He looked to Roycroft, “Well Bill, how do we approach this? There seems to be no way up.”

Bill replied, “Wild goats, they go up and down here all the time. We follow their tracks, it might get a bit hairy but if we can manage to stick to them, we should be ok.”

The men found the obvious goat tracks, worn by years of going up and down the escarpment. At the beginning, the tracks were easy to follow, but as they made their way up the cliffs, the paths were less and less discernable. The goats’ hooves didn’t mark the stone and at times the Team had to do the best they could to find a route to the next ledge. It was a hair-raising experience, but tenacity and courage from both the men and horses eventually paid off and they reached the top of the escarpment. They now looked back over the past two day’s terrain that they had traversed; the face of the cliffs and the open fields and rainforest country where they had galloped during the murder run.

image

 

As was always Franz’s intention, during the next few days, the men talked, joked and generally relaxed. There had been some tension between him Morgan and Roycroft. Not serious tension, but they were all alpha personalities in their own ways; sometimes three rights make a wrong. He needed to have them with him, to trust in what he was teaching. How do you take a person successful in their small pond and tell them that in order to make it in the big pond, they would need to basically forget everything they had learnt and start again. It would be a slap in the face and would probably be seen as a power grab and it would certainly put them offside and all would be lost. No, Franz would need to be diplomatic, shape and mould the relationships, as he needed; he had to have the trust and respect of every man. Respect cannot be demanded; it must be earned, particularly with men like Morgan and Roycroft.

Franz was comfortable he could fit in, after all, they had all been military men, they all shared a common love of horses, they just needed time to develop a mutual respect. Franz already had respect for the Australian riders in their raw form; he knew how much he could improve them and he just needed them to buy into it.

As they rode through the bush, the personalities came to the fore. Mairinger had picked every man for a reason, they all had their strengths and they were all part of a puzzle Mairinger hoped to put together to create a clear picture. Every piece would need to find its place and in the end fit seamlessly into the equation.

Franz was a quietly confident man and very modest. He had his opinions but was very diplomatic in the way he got them across. His riding was relaxed and fluid and the Australians could not help but admire the quiet effective way he communicated image

with his horse, there was no brute strength, no momentary lapses of balance no superfluous unintentional movements at all, even on very uneven ground, he looked to be sitting into the horse rather than on it. He definitely had the air of a knowledgeable man, but would he have a strong enough personality?

Crago was here for the second time and very competitive when required. He was a good horseman who had a real empathy for horses, as exhibited in the incident at Stockholm. He was easy-going amongst a group, a bit of a joker who loved a bet and got on with most people. He was a fair judge of character and had decided all of the men around him were worthy of respect, but truth be known, he was not as strong a rider as the others. On a horse he had trained he was as good as any, but if he had not built a relationship with the horse from the start, he sometimes struggled to get the horse’s understanding,  our solo his horse had been trained by Bill Roycroft he was obedient to an assertive rider but assertiveness was not Cragos MO with a horse, he was a gentle horseman, almost with a feminine touch, though for all the world a real man.

image

Lavis was a supremely modest man who listened well, but was not inclined to force his opinion. He took in what he liked and rejected what he didn’t; the quiet air of a horseman was all about him. No big-noting, no-boyish loudness, probably a man similar in quiet character to Franz. He could be moulded, he wanted to be moulded and he recognised Franz’s experience and infinite knowledge of horses and training. He wasn’t a big fan of loud, dominant personalities as they were inclined to take advantage of his good nature. His good nature had helped him form a bond with his horse, Mirabooka that bordered on the mythical, the horse would do anything for him and he for the horse! No one put the time and effort into his mount that Lavis did the horse was more than his ride it was honestly his mate. He was a real good bloke.

image

 

Roycroft was a strong horseman. Like most Australian riders, he was always able to make it happen, to get a result when tenacity was required. He was opinionated and a little narrow-minded. He was well read on the skills of riding and had educated himself as well as one can from a book. But now he had one of the best horsemen in the world to instruct him. Roycroft needed to come to terms with this and it would take some time to learn how much he could learn. It is one thing to read but it is another to have a master pass knowledge on and correct every detail, develop every nuance. Book learning can be mechanical, but the knowledge passed from person to person promotes the artistic and emotional elements. Roycroft was not the artistic or emotional type.

image

Morgan was a machine. He was driven, single-minded and would do whatever it took. He was abrupt and forward with his opinions, and inclined to be a little harsh with those who did not agree with him. He could well take advantage of Lavis’ niceness. He had already started to treat him like a kid at times. Not bullying as such, but direct in the manor of a dominant personality not to be questioned. He was a tough guy in every sense of the word and he would be Mairinger’s hardest nut to crack. His discipline and commitment to training had made him outstanding at everything he had done. Football, rowing, boxing and any other sport he put his hand to. The difference here was the horse, he could ride with the same determination as everything else. This would get him a long way, but Franz knew there was a good percentage for improvement in the technical aspects of his riding. Largely he tried too hard, in his other sporting endeavors it was difficult to see trying too hard as a negative, but over-riding can be a huge negative. This guy would be the hardest to work with, but his positive attributes could well be the thing at the end of the day to get them through a tight spot; he certainly had points of difference.

image

After five days riding the men arrived in Bowral, where the best training facilities they could afford, had been set up. The bonding ride had been a positive experience. Now Franz would need all of his diplomacy and coaching ability to put the all-important technical and artistic detail into his Team. This would be somewhat of a challenge, but Franz had anticipated this.

Forming, storming, norming and performing are the four fazes which are required parts of the development of any successful team. There are definite periods of each of these aspects and in places, they overlap. The forming had taken part with the selection of the Team and they were well into the storming period, where each man finds his place. It can be a rigorous process, which can be the end of many teams; sometimes this period requires commitment and compromise. Franz ‘s intention was to get as much of the storming over with as soon as he could, for if they were to perform at the end of the day, they needed as much time for the norming phase, which is working together to improve and consolidate.

Part 8 Mirrabooka” horseman of the southern cross

Five men sit astride their horses in an open paddock
Samuel  Horden on the ground is talking with Franz who is mounted.

“Ok Franz, everything is organised and will all be in place by the time the Team arrives.”

“Thank you Samuel , are you sure we can’t find you a horse so you can join us?”

“No thanks very much, I’ll leave you to the riding and I’ll look after the politics and the money.”

Horden watched the Team as they rode off calmly across beautiful, lush, green fields whilst ahead in the distance, lay rugged sandstone escarpments, rising like huge walls built by some ancient giant to protect something very special.

Over the next five days, Mairinger would get a better understanding of the men and who they really were. He would develop a respect for this magnificent country he now called home. It would help him to see how his Team had been shaped as men. Though this was a team-building exercise, Franz would see the strengths and weaknesses of every man and they may well see the same of him.

The glimpse Franz got of the Australian riders at the first Games had impressed him and they had come from a different world to him, it may just as well have been a different planet. He wanted some of what they had and in time, he would give them some of what he had, which they needed. He had no doubt that once the polish had been applied, the tenacity, competitiveness and the love for their horses would shine through. The incident with Crago and the horse at the first Games had left an indelible mark on the soul of this great horseman.

The men had ridden for some hours talking and joking amongst themselves, whilst revealing some of their individual histories, whilst really getting to know each other. Eventually, the magnificent Illawarra escarpment rose in front of them, the eastern face of The Great Dividing Range where it almost met the sea. From a distance, the huge vertical cliffs seemed impenetrable; the upper part of the escarpment seemed to reach the sky and was shrouded in soft white clouds. The land in front of the escarpment was lush, green dairy country – the drought proof pasture of the South Coast of New South Wales.

image

Mairinger viewed this wonderful environment, “Beautiful country Bill, it reminds me of parts of Austria where I grew up. It seems that Austria and Australia have some things in common. I must say though, I wouldn’t call these mountain ranges, more like foothills!”image

Roycroft replied, “Beautiful country alright, this is some of the most productive dairy land in Australia. Funny, some city folk would call this the bush, but this isn’t the bush. We’ll find the bush up there.”

They all looked to the top of the escarpment where a large eagle could be seen circling and calling. The white clouds were rapidly changing and building in height and density and it was apparent a thunderstorm was building and approaching.

“Kookaburras are laughing loudly Mairinger, they seem to be laughing at us!” continued Roycroft.

Morgan, in his time-to-get-things-done voice replies, “They will be if we don’t get a move on. It’s gonna piss down, we need to get to the foot of the escarpment before dark to set up camp.”

Crago, looking to Morgan with a cheeky childish grin, said, “What do you say Laurie? Murder run?”

Morgan smiles knowingly in return, “Sounds good to me!”

Lavis and Mairinger look confused whilst Crago smiles and Roycroft agrees, “I’m in.”

Lavis asks the question, “What’s a murder run?”

Morgan explains, “Let’s call it a training exercise, we pick a point, let’s say that waterfall in the distance,” Morgan points toward the escarpment where a waterfall can be seen tumbling down the cliffs and disappearing into the rainforest directly at its base. The distance seemed relatively short, it is an illusion created by the stone walls towering skywards and the steep pasture leading up to those walls. In reality, it was a good five kilometres. Over that distance the beautiful dairy country gradually gives way to more and more dense bushland. The going becomes more rugged with creeks, gullies, washaways, and green paddocks turning to wilderness near the base of the escarpment. The clouds above were looking more and more ominous.

Morgan continued his explanation, “and we ride in a straight line as fast as possible from here to there, no deviations, no shirking. What do you think Franz – are you in?”
“For now Laurie, you are calling the shots.”
Before anyone could speak, Roycroft called, “Follow me.” and he was off at the imagegallop, with the others following close behind.

 

The group of riders race across the open dairy country, clods of lush green pasture and moist dark soil thrown up by the hooves whilst cattle scattered to make way for the racing horses. The first galloping stretch is along two kilometers of slightly rising, undulating country with rabbits running for cover as the group quickly approached. The slope of the first stretch takes the edge off the horses but they are supremely fit and do not tire. Eventually, the paddock must end and as a barbed wire fence loomed, the riders came to a screaming halt and it appeared that another route must be found.

Mairinger, out of breath asks, “What now, where is the gate?” Roycroft, without comment, rides up to the fence, removes his oilskin coat and spreads it over the barbed wire. “‘No deviations’.” He quoted as he rode away from the fence line. Crago is ahead of him and he rides towards the fence where the oilskin is draped over, giving enough substance against the treacherous barbed wire for his horse, Solo, to draw confidence and pick a takeoff point. Solo jumps the fence comfortably and the other riders follow suit. As Roycroft jumps the fence last, he whisks the coat from the fence and the Team continued on.

The men ride a crazy, dangerous game of follow the leader and huge fallen trees are no obstacles. The horses jump them with a joyous zeal, they zig zag through groves of young saplings and the bush around them becomes thicker and the terrain more treacherous, all the while the storm above threatens to break and the horses power down into deep washaways, sometimes almost sitting on their haunches on the steep banks. They then drive powerfully up the other side, with thunder booming and lighting flashing across the sky.

The horses and men are at their physical limit, but both relish the fray; this is what riding by the seat of your pants is all about. They jump narrow gullies, splash through creeks and scrub and now enter a deciduous eucalypt forest. Kangaroos scatter and a wombat retreats hastily down his hole at the sound of the thundering hooves. The men ride up the last steep rise as the roof of the forest closes to become the canopy of what is now a rainforest. Huge tree ferns have taken the place of gum trees and the first rain begins to fall in massive droplets with the canopy above protecting the men and horses. The horses gallop on and the ground is now clear of scrubby undergrowth for there in not enough sunlight to support it under the umbrella above. The sound of the waterfall thunders around them as it crashes to the rocks, they are almost there.

Finally, with the horses spent, the men exhausted yet exhilarated, they come upon a large pool at the base of the falls with the spray pushed by the ever-strengthening wind, mingled and mixed with the raindrops. The horses didn’t need to be asked twice, they happily halted. The men, glowing from the rush of the ride, dismounted, breathless, yet still the beauty of the location was not lost, particularly on Franz. He gazed up at the falling water, allowing it to cool his overheated face. There was no point talking, nothing could be heard over the crashing falls, the horses walked into the pool up to their knees and drank steadily. Once they had had their fill, the men led their horses away from the falls to a clearing more suited to set up for the night’s camp.

The murder run complete; there is no victor, no vanquished, but there is mutual respect, the bonding had begun.

Part 7 “Mirrabooka”Horseman of the southern cross.

.

 

Over the next three days, the trialists are put through their paces with lessons and testing on all three of the elements of the Three Day Event. Dressage to test the accuracy and obedience of the horse, cross country to test stamina, courage and athleticism and show jumping, which on the third day of competition, tests a horse and rider’s ability to back up after the rigours of the cross country the day before.

All rode dressage tests, cross-country courses and show jumping rounds and it was a serious test of man and beast and all under the knowledgeable and watchful eye of Franz Mairinger. The standard over the last four years had improved dramatically. Instruction and regular competition had done a large part of the work, now Mairinger must narrow down the numbers to what he believed would be a Team capable of bringing home a gold medal. Franz was full of self-belief that he had seen enough of the Australian riders and Australians in general, to recognise their resilience, commitment and never say die attitude.

Mairinger’s intention was to build on what the Australians already had – natural talent. As with working with a young horse, a smart rider takes the horse’s natural attributes and temperament and works with it. It would be a crime to dismantle the personality of a young horse and try to make it something it is not, and a good trainer/coach takes what he has and adds to it but never loses sight of why he chose to start with that horse in the first place.

Franz had plenty of experience with this and intended to apply his wisdom and experience to his new charge, the Australian Eventing Olympic Team.

The trials were over and Franz had assured all of the trialists that he would address them individually as to why they had or had not made the Team.

Roycroft and Morgan were chatting between themselves as Horden and Mairinger stood talking to the four continental trialists, who had come back from competing in Europe to try their luck for Olympic selection. The two men feared a decision had been made. Was this a congratulatory conversation?

The standard of horsemanship over the last few days had been outstanding, Roycroft and Morgan recognised this. It was a far cry from the trials four years previously; neither would be surprised if they did not make the final cut. Roycroft felt once again he had held his own, he only hoped they didn’t play the age card. Even Morgan, with his supreme confidence, was nervous and was reading bad news in to the conference taking place on the veranda.

Mairinger shook hands with the four riders he had been conversing with and approached Morgan and Roycroft.

“Thank you gentleman for your efforts over the past few days, I’m sure you agree that the standard of riding was outstanding. You are both to be congratulated. At your age, all noticed the level of the commitment you displayed. The standard of many of these riders improved, as they were aware of competing against you two gentleman.” Mairinger paused for a moment and it seemed he had been giving a ‘don’t call us we will call you speech’ then he continued. “You must also be congratulated for your selection in the Australian Eventing Team for the Rome Olympics.”

Relief flowed through the two men and a warm feeling of pride overwhelmed them, they had done it and they shook hands emotionally with each other and Mairinger. “Thanks Franz, we won’t let you down.” Franz replied, “I’m sure you won’t Laurie and you will captain the Team.”

Morgan had proven to Mairinger that he was the best man to lead the Team. He would always lead by example; Franz had never met a more driven individual. Morgan would expect of the Team no less than he expected of himself, absolute commitment. Roycroft shook Morgan’s hand again, “Congratulations mate, you are the man for the job.”

The team announced is Laurie morgan riding “saled days” Bil Roycroft on”Sabre ” neil Lavis on”Mirrabooka” and Brian Crago riding  “our solo ”    has made his second team he has a point to prove after his efforts at the last games when he gave all to rescue the horse of the fallen german rider, he has grown considerably as a person over the last four years  his experience at the previous games will prove a great assistance to the team, he is painfully aware of how close they were at the last games  he individually had finished 4th without the drama of the fallen horse he would have taken a medal. The team he has around him has all the potential needed to go to the next level. In reality cragos horse was not up to speed he had performed well at the trials but every one including crago doubted his ability to go all the way. Bill Roy croft had two good horses both capable of taking bill to the games, it was decided that Brian  would take one of bills horses, Bill had a soft spot for his big horse sabre, sabre was a good sized horse, Bill had schooled him from the start and they clicked well as a combination. Our solo was a bit smaller he had started out as a polo cross horse so was a little more touchy to ride but ridden well he could hold his own with sabre. Brian was a little fellow more suited size wise to our solo, bill decided to keep sabre and hand solo over to Brian he was a little tricky but hopefully things would work out.

image

image

The final preparations would commence immediately; the men would stay with Mairinger in Bowral and train twice daily. Mairinger was also keen to build on the Team ethic and he had arranged for the men to gather with their horses at a location on the south coast of NSW. There was no further information and the men arrived as directed.

Morgan observed, “It’s a pub, are sure this is the right place Bill?”
“Those were the directions.”
“Okay, let’s go in and see what’s up.”

On entering the pub, the four men encountered Franz Mairinger who was dressed immaculately with pressed trousers, a white cravat and his green Australian Olympic blazer.

Franz was excited to see the men and there was a sense that this meeting had been planned and choreographed. A table was set for the party in a private corner and as the men entered, five beers were brought to the table.

Mairinger greets the men with warm handshakes. “Gentlemen, please be seated.” He looked at each man, “Firstly let me welcome you to the start of our Olympic campaign. We are now a Team. We will represent this country at the upcoming Rome Olympics. You and your horses have been chosen as this country’s best chance at success. However, there is a much more important reason that you are all here. Let me explain. Four years ago, the Olympic Committee presented me with this jacket. When I enquired as to these two strange creatures that are on your Coat of Arms, I was told one was an emu, a strange looking bird that can’t fly, and the other was a kangaroo that can only hop. My immediate thoughts were, what ridiculous creatures to have on a country’s Coat of Arms. You see, I am used to a country showing their strength by having creatures such as eagles, lions and even dragons on their Coat of Arms. This year, I was given my second Olympic blazer and I asked Mr Horden why we have these two animals on our Coat of Arms. His answer was simple; they’re both native to Australia, and their significance is that neither can take a step backwards. That simple answer made me realise that not all about this country and its people is always, as it seems. You see gentlemen, you have been chosen because I believe that you too have shown that you will not take a step backwards. And I have a feeling there is more to learn about you, the Australian horseman.”

 

image

Mairinger had every intention of building this Team into a tight unit that must be willing to die for each other. They would show respect and dedication to their Teammates and each man will give his all.

Swimmers love to win a race but there is no greater feeling than to win a relay as part of a team. A surfer enjoys riding a wave, but five men sitting shoulder to shoulder in a surf boat as it screens down the face of a wave, share an experience that can make your heart feel like it will burst through your chest. To develop this camaraderie was a major part of Mairinger’s game plan, he knew that this mateship was part of the Australian culture and it was something that he admired greatly and he would use it to the Team’s advantage. It was also something he himself was keen to be a part of.

Lavis, who had spent time with Mairinger in training over the last four years, knew the man very well. He would fit nicely into the Australian way and Mairinger had already proven himself as a mate and mentor to Lavis. “Too right, Mr Mairinger, there ain’t anyone here who’ll take a step backward.”

Morgan loves the feeling Mairinger has created with his simple speech. “We’re with you Franz. What have you got in mind?”
“Firstly Neil, please call me Franz, we are all equals here and I have as much responsibility as any man at the table. Our Olympic preparation prior to leaving for Rome will be broken into two parts. In the first part, you will teach me about mateship, being Australian, and the National Anthem.”

Mairinger takes a map from his top pocket and places it on the table in front of the men. Pointing to two Xs on the map, Mairinger says, “We are here.” Whilst pointing to the second X he says, “We will ride as a Team to here.”
Lavis looks at the map intently, “Jeez Franz, that’s about a two week ride!”
“Gentlemen, look at the map more closely. We have five days.”
Roycroft pipes up with a knowing smile, “We’re goin’ over the mountain range fellas.”
“Well done Bill, exactly.”
Morgan points to the second X on the map, “And what’s here Franz?”
“That gentlemen, is the beginning of the second part of our preparation.”
The barmaid arrives with a second round of beers, “Anything else Mr Mairinger?”
“Five meat pies and please keep the beers coming.”

Mairinger raises his glass and toasts to Rome, the men raise their glasses and Morgan adds “To old man emu, never a backward step.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part 6 ” Mirrabooka” horsemen of the southern cross.

Australian equestrianism had arrived. We had a style; it was gung-ho, up the guts, no holds barred “never take a backward step”. Of course none of this was at the expense of our horses.

image
Franz Mairinger now had four years to mould a Team, find the right horses and train properly to produce the best Team he could. In the first Games, only three riders were required on the Team, if one did not finish, the Team was out. A new rule allowed for four Team members with the final score calculated on the best three results.

Australia had begun to compete abroad and riders with financial backing could go to Europe where Australian riders, after Stockholm, had gained some notoriety.

Back in Australia, Franz Mairinger ran clinics and training camps regularly. The first proper Three Day Events were being run as well as regular One Day training events. The standard was rising. All through this period, Roycroft and Morgan dominated the Australian scene; their determination and commitment after not making the first Team, had only strengthened.
Morgan, within reason, had sorted his differences with Mairinger, but there was always a challenge for Franz to get the message across to these men who took the attitude: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Franz knew better. There was no doubting, that between the quality of Australian Thoroughbreds and the fearless style of the Australian riders, they could more than compete in the cross country and jumping phases, but dressage needed to be worked on. The Australian way of just ‘make it work’ didn’t hold up in the loneliness of the dressage arena. Trying harder doesn’t necessarily make it better. The winning riders could sometimes finish on their dressage scores with no jumping penalties. This had to be the goal, but to win overall, the Australian dressage scores had to be n the pace.

Morgan and Roycroft had driven with a loaded double horse float from Victoria to Bowral in New South Wales, for the next and final Australian training camp. Soon they would know if the work they had done over the past four years had been in vain. Would Mairinger still secretly hold a grudge against Morgan for his prickly hard-to-deal with attitude? Would Roycroft’s age of 45 go against him as it did last time? Morgan himself is also 45, but the difference between Morgan and Roycroft is Morgan’s fitness and strength.

Both men are exceptional riders but we are all a product of our past. Aside from his equestrian prowess, Morgan had been a supreme athlete; a Victorian heavyweight boxing champion, four years with the Fitzroy Football Club and a State representative in rowing and polo. Laurie Morgan’s equestrian achievements were extraordinary, but he excelled across disciplines. Rowing is an exact sport. Every single aspect of the stroke must be mastered and then implemented in a calm, relaxed yet powerful way. There are elements of the sport that cross directly into riding; there is the softness and the flow of a rower as he recovers down the slide to prepare for the next stroke, which requires gentleness, and a caress in order not to adversely interfere with the run of the boat. Only elite rowers understand, there is the moment of the catch, a fraction of a second where every fibre of the athlete’s musculature is switched on, the self control is finite, the connection between the bottom of the rower’s feet on the foot chocks and the end of the oar blade in the water could easily be compared to the connection created between a rider’s seat, legs and hands. Any slip or lack of control in any of the joints of the body will let you down. Anyone who has done both sports to any level will know. Morgan had developed his concentration and self-awareness through his rowing and other sporting experience, this was his point of difference and no-one in the Equestrian Team could have equaled him. He was truly a product of his past.

image

In Bowral, all trialists from around Australia had gathered and the results of all competitions throughout Australia, and indeed competitions where Australians had featured throughout Europe, had been monitored and Mairinger was acutely aware of every detail, of every result, of every rider and horse. This was the first time they had all come together in one place and some of the competitors had never met each other.

The men had gathered together on the lawn of a beautiful homestead in the picturesque Southern Highlands. Most are dressed formally in riding regalia with Morgan and Roycroft standing amongst the group noticing that there were plenty of riders with whom they were unfamiliar.

Brian Crago, the only member of the first Team from Stockholm who would be backing up to trial, approached the pair. “G’day Bill, g’day Laurie,” he welcomes, shaking hands with both men. “I was hopin’ you two guys would give it another go.”
Morgan replies in a friendly, but as always, slightly defensive tone, “I told you at the last tryouts Brian, you hadn’t heard the last of us.”
Roycroft, noting the unfamiliar crowd observed, “Bloody hell Brian, who are all these blokes? I don’t think I’ve seen half of ‘em at any of the events I’ve been to in the last couple of years.”
“Yeah most of them are continental riders Bill.”
“Continental riders! I thought this was to pick the Australian Team!”
“Oh they’re Australian Bill. Since we sent our first Team to the Games, any bloke who could afford it has been in Europe for the past couple of years competing with the best to try to make this Team.”
Horden and Mairinger interrupt Crago as they walk out onto the verandah to address the trialists. Horden takes the floor. “Good evening gentlemen and welcome to the 1960 Australian Equestrian Olympic Team trials. Over the next three days you will be competing for a place in this Team. Your performance here, along with results from local and abroad over the past three years, will determine your place in the Team or not. Several of the continental riders gave a knowing smirk and nod to each other. Morgan turns to Roycroft “Here we go.” Horden continues, “I will be taking everything into consideration when selecting the Team to be coached again by Mr Franz Mairinger to represent our Nation in Rome next year. Gentlemen, I wish you all the best in competition and on behalf of our generous host, extend an invitation to you all to partake in light refreshments before tomorrow’s competition.” Waiters mingle amongst the men with trays of refreshments. The group of men go through the formalities of introducing themselves to one another. A man dressed in the finest riding attire approached Crago who was still in conversation with Morgan and Roycroft. He pushes his hand out to Crago in greeting, failing to acknowledge the two older gents. “Crago isn’t it? William Clayton-Thomas, nice to meet you, you’re the only one trying out from the last Team I understand.”
“Nice to meet you. That’s right, other blokes have families and bills to pay, for me I felt like there was some unfinished business to attend to. This is Bill Roycroft and Laurie Morgan.”
“Indeed,” Clayton-Thomas not overly interested in the introduction, “you put up a fair show last time, but hasn’t the sport come a long way?”
Crago responds, a little embarrassed and annoyed at the treatment of his mates. “You might say that, but it’s still just horses and jumps.”
“Yes, I’ve purchased a few good horses whilst I was competing in Europe last summer, a nice stallion, might be able to improve the Australian stock.”
Roycroft, suddenly interested, forces his way into the conversation “What sort of horses you riding?”
“Warmbloods of course, they seem to be taking out everything at the moment, bred for the purpose.”
Now Roycroft is a staunch fan of the Australian Thoroughbred and he believes there is no substitute when is comes to the Three Day Event. “So Thoroughbreds can’t go with ‘em?”
“Thoroughbreds are racehorses Mr Roycroft.” Replied Clayton-Thomas somewhat arrogantly.

This is an interesting perspective on Thoroughbred horses and it still exists today, even more so. The Thoroughbred was bred to race yes, but the great stallions to come to Australia had bloodlines that were developed for steeplechase, hurdles, point-to-point racing and flat racing. Many of these Australian Thoroughbred stallions originated from Ireland where jumps racing was more popular than flat racing, so for 400 years Thoroughbreds were bred to travel at speed with endurance over jumps. Roycroft was very aware of this, but was not interested in sharing his thoughts with this know-it-all. Besides, it gave him an edge that he didn’t want to relinquish.

image

A fifth man joins the group and he shakes hands with all. “Nice to meet you, I’m Lavis,
Neil Lavis.”
Morgan, directing his attention to Lavis, “Now here’s a bloke with an interesting horse, what is he mate? Half Draft?”
Lavis replies, “Mirrabooka? Just a splash of Draft Mr Morgan, but he’s 9/10ths Thoroughbred, that’s where he gets his speed and stamina.”

image

Mirrabooka was a big solid horse, Morgan could be forgiven for thinking he may have been half Draft. He had a big head with a roman nose and was close to 17 hands. Roycroft found it hard to give a compliment to anything other than a Thoroughbred, but quietly he admired this big friendly fellow. He had all the attributes of the athletic Thoroughbred but with the quiet stoic work ethic of the tiny splash of Draft blood that flowed through his veins. The Draft breeds have been bred for their temperament and work ethic for thousands of years. Though Mirrabooka could run with the best of them, his ancestors had helped build this country by snigging logs, dragging wagons and clearing roads. They had been line bred for their ability to work with people, to know their job and do it willingly. Many Australian Thoroughbred horses have in their lineage the odd “bred from a station mare”. A station mare was often an all-rounder, regularly tainted with a splash of Draft, though this was not readily admitted and so the Australian Thoroughbred has a little hybrid vigour. In reality, this is what Mirrabooka was, for all intents and purposes, an Australian Thoroughbred. He had just never been registered. The Draft breeds tend to be more upright in the shoulder than the long striding Thoroughbred, this leads to a more elevated front action, a trait sought after and developed in the European Warmbloods. Mirrabooka, by sheer luck, had been born with it and he was a nice mix. The name Mirrabooka, is Aboriginal for Southern Cross.

Directing his conversation to Clayton-Thomas, Roycroft comments, “Speed and stamina, that’s exactly what you need in a horse Neil.”

Clayton-Thomas responds with a I-know-better-attitude, “As I said Mr Roycroft, Thoroughbreds are racehorses. Good day gentlemen, see you on the course tomorrow.”

Roycroft can finally say what he thinks, “Bloody Warmblood, I thought half the competition was about speed and stamina.” Roycroft is in good company, all of the men are strong supporters of the Thoroughbred, three will ride ex-racehorses and Lavis’ horse, though bigger, has unmistakable Thoroughbred breeding.

Morgan, calming his loyal and passionate Thoroughbred supporting mate, “Settle Bill, we’ll sort that out tomorrow; we’ll show them why you can’t go past a Thoroughbred. Now are we gonna walk this course? Lavis, eager to learn from this well known and experienced horseman pipes up, “Do you mind if I join you Mr Morgan? ”
“No, you’re right mate, and Bill can have a talk to you about that horse of yours.” With that, the four men walk off laughing and immediately begin to walk the course.

Mairinger and Horden watch as the four men walk away, Mairinger turns to Horden “That could well be our Team there Sam.
“You could be right Franz, let’s see what the boys coming back from Europe are like. Both Bill and Laurie have had some good results in some of the local events. Age doesn’t seem to stop them.” Mairinger, slightly confused at the direction the men were walking comments, “They do know they’re walking in the opposite direction that the course will be run tomorrow, don’t they Sam?”
“It’s a funny thing Franz, I’ve noticed that men from the land who compete, always walk the course in the opposite direction the day before they ride it. They reckon it gives them a true indication of the lay of the land.” At this point, he is pulled aside to be introduced to some dignitaries, leaving Mairinger alone to look at the four men walking into the sunset and he comments out loud to himself, “You are never too old to learn something new.”

 

Part 5 “Mirrabooka” Horseman of the southern cross

A week later the Team for the 1956 Olympics is announced; Wood, Jacobs, Crago, Barker, Winchester and Thompson. Both Roycroft and Morgan are conspicuous in their absence. It was largely believed that Roycroft, in his 40s, was omitted due to his age. Most of the riders selected were in there 20s or early 30s.

image

Roycroft was not impressed; he believed he had done enough to be selected. He had put his life on hold at the time, which for a father with a young family, was a much bigger deal than some of the young guys who were being supported by their parents. He had shown his abilities and he felt he had more than equaled all of the other trialists. It came down to age, something he couldn’t control. Roycroft was far from finished, though outwardly he supported the effort, just below the surface of his polite exterior was a burning desire to prove that he could do it. He would now have to wait for the next opportunity and continue to improve himself in four years and being four years older, push for another chance. As always, the challenger needs to be good enough to knock out a champion to prove his supremacy, take the referee out of the equations by being so good that they can’t leave you out. And in doing so, he would leave no stone unturned.

Morgan was filthy; he had no doubt that he had gotten off on the wrong foot with Mairinger. But he should have been shown more respect; no-one had worked, or was willing to work, as hard as him. There was talk that he was a risk due to his professional status as a football player. In these days the Olympics were strictly amateur, any hint of professionalism could be an embarrassment to Australia in the midst of holding its first Olympics. This didn’t placate Morgan and as he argued the point, he tried to rebuke his professional status but underneath he felt no matter what he did, he had ruined his chances of making it to the Games. Morgan wasn’t finished and he pooled his resources and garnished assistance from friends and relatives. When the Australian Team left for preparation in England, he was hot on their heals. Maybe someone would pull out, possibly an injury or illness, and should that opportunity arise to grab a spot, he would grab it. He entered all the competitions that the Australian Team entered and on most occasions beat most of them. He was proving to everyone that he was the better athlete and he would show them that they had made the wrong choice. Mairinger would have to admit he had made a mistake.

Maringar could not help but admire Morgan’s tenacity, what a competitor, what commitment, what potential. Morgan’s efforts were not wasted and they had been noted and stored by Franz for a later date, but for now he needed to focus on the task at hand.

The Australians competed at every opportunity, they rode borrowed horses and with limited preparation performed admirably. They developed a reputation for dash and courage, riding rounds on the cross-country fearlessly at high speed, but unfortunately there is nowhere to hide in the dressage arena and weaknesses were exposed by keen but green riders on horses sound and honest, but unfamiliar.

The Australian riders were gathered in a hotel room in Stockholm Sweden, the location for the Melbourne Olympic equestrian events. A newspaper article heralded the arrival of the Australian Jumping Team with a cartoon depicting an Australain aboriginal riding a kangaroo in the style of a bushranger.

image

Dave Woods, the Captain of the Team, throws the paper on the table, “Looks like they are taking it pretty seriously.” he said with an air of disappointment.

“Any publicity is good publicity.” replied Horden. He had achieved his goal, Australia would compete and anything more from this point forward would be a bonus.

“Look on the bright side,” said Bunty Thompson, “if we don’t aim up no-one at home will even know about it!”

Crago is quick to find a positive in the room full of doubt. “Yeah, and when we win the gold medal no bastard will know about it either.”

The men’s laughter is broken as Mairinger enters the room. “Good to see you in good spirits gentleman, could I have everyone gather around the table for a moment please?”

Tomorrow the competition begins with the Dressage. To prepare a horse properly for the Olympics takes five years, we have had five months. Dressage is the specialty of the Continental riders, they have practiced it here in its classical form for 2,500 years. You have worked hard and are well on the right track, however five months can be no substitute for generations of tradition.

Do not be surprised or dejected if, at the end of the first day, we are behind. The second day is ours – speed and endurance. It has been generations since the Europeans rode this style for practical reasons. In Australia however, your lives have been based on it. As children you trotted miles to school, jumping all obstacles on the way. As adults you have ridden as stockmen, for hours mustering cattle and sheep. This is where we will come to the fore.

Gentlemen, you are the first Australians to compete on horseback at the Olympic level. Where you place is irrelevant, you have achieved your Olympic Dream. We are here, go out and do your country proud. The enormity of what has been achieved hits home suddenly and the relaxed air is gone. Yes they were behind the eight ball, but it is not the Australian way to just go out there and compete. There is stirring in the gut of the men as they contemplate the task at hand and they will certainly give it a serious crack.

In the warm up area for the cross county, Dave Woods rides up to Brian Crago who is about to start his round. “Lickety-split mate, don’t look back.” Crago replies with his usual humorous vibe, “By the time I finish this round they’ll be mentioning my name with
Betty Cuthbert and Dawn Fraser.” He smiles but his normal confidence is dented by the enormity of the occasion.

The starter commences the countdown with Crago on his horse standing in the 10 second box. Today he is riding for his country, it’s not about money it’s not about impressing the girls, this is the real deal and he will give it all he has. “4,3,2,1” Crago explodes out of the box and he attacks the first jump like it is the last he will ever ride; he is away. Over the loud speaker, the commentator crackles “And there goes the 3rd Australian rider, after a very poor day yesterday the Australians have been impressive to say the least on a daunting course, their previous two riders have gone clear and fast, and a good ride by this rider Crago, could actually see them in the standings.”

Crago rides like a man possessed, the crowd cheers as he shows no respect for the intimidating cross country course, his borrowed horse is bold, not the kind of horse he is used to, but he has obviously bought into Crago’s belief that nothing is too hard. At the halfway point, Crago’s round is the quickest to this point and he is starting to make ground on the rider in front of him, a German competitor who started his round a minute in front of his. It gradually becomes apparent that Crago will need to pass him. It is touch and go as to whether he should try to pass him prior to the next jump. Crago decides that patients is the better option and he slows his horse to a trot in order to let the German negotiate what is a fairly complicated water combination. A massive woven log of 1.2 meters with an equal spread,  a 1.5 meter drop into the water, one stride to a structure of giant woven bottles in the water with a height of 1 metre, two strides then up a 1 metre bank to exit the water.

The crowd has gathered at this jump though the line is straightforward, the water is relatively deep and many have fallen here today. The German’s horse is struggling with the round; he is obviously tired and needs to be urged on with the crop. He is put off slightly by the crowd, and finding a bad takeoff point at the first element, he scrambles over the massive woven log dragging his back end, the landing in the water is awkward to say the least  the one stride to the next element becomes a bumbling trot, he stops and hesitates before launching At the jump, his impetus all but gone The rider urges him on, he jumps early but the heavy water holds him back and he lands in the middle of the woven bottle element. The jumps construction is flimsy and with the horse scrambling all over it, it begins to disintegrate. The horse is now in a horrible tangled mess, trapped, his hindquarters awkwardly in the air he is unable to free himself and it is a life and death struggle to keep his head above water level.

image

 

The German is thrown clear and is stunned as he surveys the scene and he hasn’t got a clue where to start. No one from the crowd moves to help. Crago, who has been held up and has watched the drama unfold, can see that if nothing happens quickly this horse will get a lung full of water and will be doomed. Crago jumps from his horse, and without hesitation enters the water. In a split second he is at the horse’s head, placing his knee under the horse’s cheek he holds the horse by the nose. Once he has broken the alignment of the horse’s spine, the horse surrenders as a zebra to a lion. The struggling ceases immediately and Crago holds the horse calmly, reassuring him until help arrives and the jump is dismantled. Crago releases the horse who has a big shake and is led, hardly the worse from the experience, out of the water.

There in no doubt Crago has saved his life. Unfortunately, Crago’s round is a mess and he now has 60 penalties for dismounting on course and with the extended delay in rebuilding the course the individual times are horribly mixed up. Crago receives ridiculous time penalties but they are irrelevant, the 60 point penalty for the dismount has ended the Australian Team’s slim chances of a medal.

Later in the day, Teams are seeing to their horses, washing down and packing up. The German Coach approaches Franz Mairinger. “A nasty incident out there today Franz.”
“Yes, you almost lost a horse.”
“But you lost a medal, what that rider did is tantamount to treason.”
“It is a pity about the medal, but that horse would have drowned.”
“There are many horses Franz, sometimes sacrifices must be made. No doubt your rider will be disciplined”.

Mairinger is disgusted at the attitude of the German Coach, who obviously puts medals well ahead of horses’ welfare. Franz loves the competition but not as much as he loves his horses.
“This attitude is the reason I left the School, the love of horses is being lost on the continent. These Australians still have the belief that a horse and rider are partners; the horse is not a machine to be discarded at the drop of a hat. It is for this reason that they will win medals, no, not at these Games, but as long as they can maintain this honest respect for their equine partners, the medals will come.”
The German scoffs at Franz’s honest spoken heartfelt words. “Beautiful words Franz, but words do not win medals.”

Maringar approaches Crago who is shattered that he had let his Teammates down. Crago speaks before Mairinger can get a word in. “I’m sorry Franz, I really am, I’ve let you down. I know I cost us a bloody medal. I’m sorry Franz. I just couldn’t leave that horse to drown mate. I just couldn’t do it.”

Mairinger, smiling, places his hand on Crago’s shoulder, “You have nothing to be sorry for. If anything, I want to thank you.”
“Thank me? For what?”
“For reminding me of the reason I took this job and how much I love horses. We certainly have something here amongst us Australians that is sadly missing elsewhere. I am heartened by what I have seen and found here amongst you and your Teammates. We will be back.”

Maringar places his arm warmly around Crago’s shoulders and they walk off. The ice has been broken, now the serious work with four years to prepare horse and rider for the next Games to be held in Rome, begins. No stone will be left unturned.

re training the ex racehorse part 10

 

Once the work in hand and lunging are established it is time to start the horse under
saddle. All of the systematic work previously carried out has led us to this point.
If the horse is working with the four essentials, forward contact on the outside reign,inside flexion, tempo and Rhythm you can be pretty certain that there will be a smooth transition to the ridden work.
By this time, any idiosyncrasies the horse may have should have been exposed, if at any time you are uncertain about mounting the horse seek experienced assistance.
Every workout at this point should move through work in hand into a minimum of 20
minutes lunging or however long it takes to have the horse traveling as you would like him to whilst ridden.

.