We all know that thoroughbreds have been bred to run, and that their minds are attuned to the competitiveness every racehorse needs to be a superstar. By its very nature, the business demands an animal that is sprung for the occasion, and that often involves an alert, hot-blooded temperament. The downside to this is that the young racehorse often builds up a strong head of steam when the opportunity to run presents itself, and they know when they visit the track in the mornings, that this is their chance to show off their talents.
As a result, watching a string of youngsters prancing their way to the track is a sight to behold. These creatures are the products of more than 350 years of selection on the part of the best breeders in the world, and their genes have been sorted for their courage, their speed, their soundness, and their mental strength, their movement and their sheer nobility and beauty. In short, the racehorse is a genetic masterpiece, and to see a string of young athletes approaching the training tracks, necks craned and bodies sprung for the moment, a musty haze blowing from their nostrils, is to witness a gallery of the Old Masters.
Of course, when they get to the track, this is their moment, and their heads are down, craving the opportunity for action. Their eyes are riveted on the track, their jockeys are poised for the action and the horses have nothing else on their minds, except to fly.
This is where the psychologist and the acrobat enter the picture. The former profession is critical in the relationship between steed and rider, as the horse knows exactly what it has on its back, and will take advantage of any chink in the jockey’s armour. Keeping his mount just off boiling point requires an art, a patience and an instinct that is rare among human beings, and at Summerhill we are more than fortunate in having a band of people, particularly our Zulus, who understand young horses better than most, and who get right inside their heads.
However, nothing, but nothing, can prepare a youngster for the eventuality when a startled buck decides to abandon its cover for safer pastures, leaping from its hiding place and scampering across the downs in any one of a dozen directions. The young thoroughbred, no matter how often it’s witnessed this performance playing itself out, chooses alarm as its first instinct, and then even when it gets used to it, it knows this is play-time, and here’s where the acrobat enters the fray. Every attribute of the supreme athlete is needed to keep the rider on top in the first instance, and secondly, he must maintain a calmness and control capable of subduing the antics of the rampant young blueblood as well. Otherwise, his destiny is well known, and the ignominy of the fall is the subject of mirthful derision for days, sometimes weeks on end, depending on the severity. The harder you fall, the longer the pain!
Summerhill is of course, a haven for wild animals, and the buck are only too aware of the fact that on this estate, they are royal game. As a result, they’re not only plentiful, but they take advantage of their immunity, and these scenes play themselves out several times a week on the gallops.
In the normal course, you’d think we’d be afraid of the consequences, and while that used to be the case, the faith that exists between rider and the horse at Summerhill is such that, with very few exceptions, these situations come fairly readily into check.