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Horses, Armidale

Funny thing about horses ...


by Bill Upjohn and David Pearson

a collection of short stories from a lifetime with horses.


While classical stories tell of right conquering might and the meek inheriting the earth, in real life the race is more often to the swift and the fight to the strong ...

Read a snippet of one of the chapters.  

The flying Dutchman


I like horses.  The more I learn about them the more I respect them and the more I get to like them.  You only have to think about the placid nature of these beautiful big animals who baby sit three year old kiddies, or carry six year olds to victory in shows and pony club competitions.  Just seeing them respond to an almost imperceptible direction from a tiny hand, or a movement from a little leg, to weave perfectly around pegs and barrels, or over jumps has to be enough to bring a lump to the throat of even a confirmed horse hater (and I guess such people do exist.)


Even horse lovers will have to admit there is an element of risk in any horse activity.  A rider is sitting almost two metres in the air on a living, thinking animal.  An animal that believes in tigers and sees them often - even if they turn out to be a stump or a plastic bag.  An animal that is capable of making rapid turns and prized for its ability to leap in the air, and one that sometimes takes a positive dislike to having another animal on its back.  Then, consider what we do with horses.  The work we do and the games we play: racing, show jumping, eventing, stock work, polo, jousting.  Put two people together with two horses and sooner or later they have to have a race.  No wonder horse accident statistics are high.  Human association with horses over the last few thousand years has led to countless stories of mishaps and disasters but then, you have to consider that getting out of bed in the morning is fraught with danger and the most dangerous thing you can do, if you let yourself be motivated by fear, is to stay in bed.  Statistically, more people die in bed than any other place.


Anyone who has ever been associated with riding schools, or horse treks, can tell you that a surprisingly high percentage of riders will tell lies about their ability.  Perhaps it’s bravado, embarrassment, or simply a death wish.  Some just overestimate their riding skill.  They’ve watched a Clint Eastwood western, or an episode of the saddle club, and reckon it looks easy.  Matching people and horses takes some experience, all of which leads up to the events which unfolded on a typical Sunday afternoon at the horse farm.


By default I was appointed to take out the ride.  The Boss was out fixing something and his good wife, known to all of us here as the Real Boss, works hard during the week and regards Sundays as her stand down day when she can do as she likes.  One of the things she particularly likes is coaching her bouncing babies.  They are a team of precociously capable, fearless, five to seven year old show jumpers, all girls, of course.  They look like tiny mushrooms in their big white riding helmets, joddies and riding boots but none of them can remember when they couldn’t ride a horse.  Sunday was their practice day and the Real Boss loves teaching them.  So, they take precedence over everything else for her. 


When someone calls to book a ride and tells us that they are a ‘fantastic’ rider and that they want a horse that will ‘really go, one that will run’, that is enough to set off the old alarm bells.  I will always choose a free going but also dead quiet horse.  One that will be responsive if they are competent but won’t be too much for them if they aren’t quite as good as they think.  Fortunately, a lot of the old school horses are like that.  You could say kind and responsible, natural babysitters, but in fact they are horses, experienced judges of human character and masters of the art of conservation of energy.


One of our regular customers had called to say they had a visitor from overseas who was keen to ride in Australia.  A very experienced rider, lots of horse shows, heaps of show jumping and years of trail riding all over Europe.  He was definitely a superior horseman and worthy of special consideration.  This particular regular customer had been bringing his kids every weekend and was a fair bush rider himself.  He was keen to impress his guest with the quality of Aussie horseflesh ‘Could we please give him one of our really smart show horses?’


This group turned up to go for an afternoon ride.  They were rugged up against the cold, a little flushed and very keen.  The visitor was a very fit and athletic looking fair-haired man in his middle thirties from Holland.  He had a friendly outgoing nature with that typically Dutch air of confidence.  Because horses were his specialty he seemed to have naturally taken charge of the group.  Our regulars were full of praise for their visitor’s equestrian virtues.  I have come to know some experienced Dutch riders over the years and without exception they are extremely competent, so I found it easy to relax and take him at face value.  The visitor filled out the compulsory disclaimer form that insurance worries have made part of our routine. 


In the square designated for ‘experience,’ asking how many times he had ridden in the last year, he added an extra nought to the 100 + and laughed.  The Real Boss had selected a nice mount for him, a big easy going grey horse called Bashful with a nice nature but a low level of tolerance for fools.  I had some slight misgivings when the visitor muttered something about being a little out of practice and produced an ancient English hunting cap of the thin, velvet covered type.  I looked it over, then, less than tactfully, explained to him that it might be handy as a feed dipper, or it could be a useful item under the bed at night, otherwise the best place for it was on top of a cupboard somewhere until it became a real antique.  I then fitted the visitor up with a modern, approved helmet and put in a plug for the local saddler, telling him he should get a helmet while he was out here, to take advantage of Australia’s low exchange rate against the Euro.


It is the horse farm policy to always get each person mounted individually, so we can help and supervise, but the visitor’s next step took us all by surprise.  While we were busy getting the kids onto their ponies and adjusting their stirrups, the visitor independently set about getting himself mounted.  With the reins still tied to the hitching rail, he placed his right foot in the near side stirrup and sprung gracefully into the saddle.  In one swift movement, too fast to correct himself, he landed with a bump, backward on the saddle, looking out over the horse’s tail.  Bashful, stood still with one ear cocked back and a look of horsy amazement on his long aristocratic face.  He shook his head from side to side and looked back over his shoulder.  This was right outside his experience but, to his credit, his only reaction was to wait and see what would happen next.  The visitor glanced around, to see who had been watching then, red faced, slipped hurriedly off the right hand side, forgetting in his haste to pull his foot out of the stirrup and so dragging the leather and iron over the saddle.  He made an awkward three-point landing, bum down, head up in the air, on one foot and two hands backwards, beside the horse with his right leg suspended in the air.  Remarkably the horse still just stood there and the visitor, unhurt, shook his foot loose, stood up and started to mount again, from the wrong side. 


I covered the distance remarkably quickly, for a man of my size and age, and was ready beside him to steady the horse.  This proved to be unnecessary, so I untied the reins and placed them over Bashful’s head, then directed the visitor back to the correct side and helped him to mount, physically placing his left foot into the stirrup.  As he was doing this I dryly muttered a gentle, but audible, apology, ‘I am sorry, I should have warned you, here in the southern hemisphere, horses have their heads on the other end.’  ...



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