(Photo : Leigh Willson)
THERE’S A REASON WHY THIS PART OF THE WORLD
IS CALLED THE “LAND OF LEGENDS”.
YOU’RE LOOKING AT IT.
“Excerpt from the forthcoming Summerhill Sires brochure.
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Summerhill CEOWe all have reasons for getting up in the mornings: ours, as we’ve so often said, is the privilege of living in this spectacular place, of being paid to work with the racehorse, and of doing so, with a team of true originals in a copycat world, which would’ve been less interesting without them. The sculpture of the breeding landscape has been dramatically reshaped in the past thirty years, driven by the technology of an alien age and populated by the finances of the prosperous and the powerful. Horseracing is an unforgiving sport, and its vagaries have hurt just about every one of us that’s played at it; one moment you’re cruising, the next you’re bruising. It exalts only those who are bold enough to make their own luck, and to hell with the rest.
Such a man is Michael Booysen, a stripling of a six year old when we first found him around here in the “seventies”, with a runny nose that dripped over his lips and a grubby little “bheshu” that girded his loins. His mother was a travelling saleslady who’d had six different children on six different farms by almost as many fathers, and he was churchmouse poor. It wasn’t surprising that he went through three name changes in his quest to discover his identity, but of one thing there was no doubt: he had the unmistakable look of “Adam Kok” about him, and his face was rotten with mischief, so lined, it looked like an aerial shot of the Okavango Delta in the dry season.
Another thing he was rotten with, was “horses”: he didn’t just “do” horses, he talked to them. God knows what Spook and Diesel, Imperial Despatch and Art de Vivre had to listen to in those early days. And he could ride, goodness could he ride. Booysen is the type of man people envy. Extraordinarily gifted, as good a man-manager as Summerhill has known, a universally respected professional. He’s not your walk-and-trot kind of guy though. You don’t win without being a little tough. And you need to win, because second “sucks”.
But don’t fall for the imagery. The man is unfulfilled. “I always wanted to be a jockey”, he says wistfully, glancing at his waistline as if to concede his mind was making appointments his body was no longer able to keep. Even so, you know that if a passing trainer were to offer him a ride these days, he’d swear he could make the weight.
There’s no equity in life, though. A man just wants to be a battling hoop, cadging mounts and togging up in iron sheds at country meetings. Instead, here he is, managing jockeys, managing horses, managing football teams; absolute torture! On weekends at least, he gets to dust off the trophies on his sideboard.
Michael Booysen is another Summerhill original. He’s part of the spine of the place, that’s carried it to the summit despite the odds. When the family is strong, it doesn’t need reunions to remember its purpose.