Updated: Jan 31
"And then faint and far off it seemed to them that they heard the whinny of a horse borne up from the plains upon the eastern wind. They waited wondering. Before long there came the sound of hoofs, at first hardly more than a tremor of the ground…then growing steadily louder and clearer to a quick beat.” – J.R.R. Tolkien
Man the Decks
School masters, like the Mearas, are the lords of horses - incredibly hard to find, and valuable beyond price. I have been privileged to own three in my life: El Camino, Man the Decks, and Peace Again.
Decks was a 15.3hh, bay, thoroughbred who would try to jump the moon if you asked him to. Although, he had limited scope (B grade was his sweet spot), he was incredibly honest and gave me the confidence to compete in upper-level competition.
By this time, we had moved from transporting our horses on the back of our pickup to purchasing a two-birth rust bucket. We had also begun travelling further afield for shows and every second weekend saw us making the trek to Port Elizabeth, Grahamstown, Bathurst, or George (South Africa).
Around the same time, a wonderful old gentleman, Mr. Hammy Butler, offered me the ride on his talented horse, Peace Again. Peace Again was a tall, lean, highly strung black thoroughbred, who weaved constantly in his stall and had to wear a cribbing collar to stop him from windsucking. He was a finicky eater and almost impossible to keep weight on. Every night we would boil up a large tub of barley and feed it to him mixed with linseed oil and molasses to try and tempt him to eat it. He was also a challenging horse to ride. He had tremendous scope but was extremely sensitive and headstrong.
He had been ridden for many years by Angela Rathbone, a talented rider who had natural ability. A horses' average canter stride is 12” (4 human strides). Before jumping a course, riders will walk the distances between the jumps to plan their ride. If a distance walks “long” they will need to increase their pace and push for a lengthened stride, if the distance walks “short” they will need to collect their horses and ask them to shorten their stride. The route taken between fences and the height of the fences also affect distance (a horse’s take off and landing spot are roughly the same distance from the fence as its height). Some riders, like Angela, have an instinctive feel for distance and can literally “see” their stride from a long way out, making the necessary small adjustments that put their horse into the correct take off spot every time. Other riders, myself included, have to train their “eye” and sometimes “see” their stride too late to make any adjustments, thus putting the horse too close or too far from the fence, resulting in a run out, knocked pole, or mad scramble to clear the jump.
My less than stellar record, and Peace Again's lack of adjustability, sometimes landed us in trouble. This wasn’t a problem in the lower grades, but in A grade Championship classes, with tricky related distances, it could be disastrous. However, when we were good together, we were very, very good indeed!
Whereas Decks was my dependable Chevy work horse, Peace Again was my Maserati. Together both these gems secured me a position on the show jumping team to represent my state at the Junior South African Championships. Not bad for a hick from East Londen with no horse background, no money, and very little natural talent - just a competitive streak, the willingness to work hard, and an all consuming passion for the sport!