Have you ever wondered where your passions developed from, whether they were inherited, nurtured, spontaneous, or even adopted from someone else?
As many of you will know from visiting Friday Feast, I’m a passionate foodie, yet my mother never cared about cooking, produce or anything cuisine related. She loathed gardening too, whereas I love growing my own food. Dad reads, much more now he’s a bit housebound with looking after Mum, but Mum never did, whereas I’m a complete bookworm. My brother is sporty. I’m an enthusiastic participant but somehow the genes governing easy athleticism and co-ordination passed me by.
My love for all things equine, though? Ah, well, now that’s what is known in the vernacular as a no-brainer.
As happened in those days, my father was indentured as an apprentice jockey when he was 11 years old. It would be impossible to think of an eleven-year-old today leaving home to work and live with a racehorse trainer but Dad did it, thrived and had a bit of success too. I have the most marvellous, if a little battered, whale bone whip in my office which Dad won as the winning rider of Tactful Queen in the 1952 Frances Handicap at Naracoorte, SA.
But I guess he was only following in the footsteps of his forebears, because my grandfather was also a jockey, and my great-grandfather rode jumps races. I have a book I’m currently using for research called Personalities in Pink Coats by Brian J. O’Connor, which covers the history of the Mount Gambier Hunt Club. A club of which I was also once a member. There’s a wonderful story in it of a veterans race held on September 12th, 1931 to help celebrate the club’s Golden Jubilee. It was run during the local Winter Race Carnival, I assume at Mount Gambier’s Glenburnie Racecourse, although that isn’t specified. The SA Jockey Club allowed the race on the proviso it was run under SAJC rules and that the jockeys were amateur.
The veterans were aged 60 and over and among them was my great-grandfather Lou Hein, aged 63, riding Kings Street. The eldest rider was Jim Hanlon aged 77. As you can imagine, the race drew considerable interest. Perhaps some locals expected carnage. Not a chance. These riders were all true horseman and had been all their lives.
Lou was the only Mount Gambier man to ride, the remainder were from over the south-east of SA and western Victoria. I would love to say he won, but he didn’t. That honour went to 71 year old Jack Stock, riding 2/1 favourite Bonny Deen. According to Personalities in Pink Coats, Jack was a bachelor but won a lot of lady admirers that day. It was the silver cutlery that did it.
My great-uncle Clarence also rode and there’s a wonderful family tale of how, in 1928, Clarrie, aged sixteen, travelled from Mount Gambier across the Victorian border to Coleraine for a race meeting. When the meet proved unsuccessful, he headed back to Casterton where, the next day, he rode King Sam to victory in the Casterton Cup. Fast forward to 2008 and there’s Clarrie, aged 96, once again at the Casterton Cup, only this time presenting the prize to the winning jockey of the same race he’d won eighty years before.
With this kind of family history it’s little wonder I was born horse mad. Fortunately I had Dad on hand to help teach me horsemanship. He was no longer a jockey, his career having ended at age twenty-one when his apprenticeship finished and he’d grown too big for the job, but there are some things you don’t forget. My teenage years are a blur of horses and horse events. Pony club, trail riding, saddle horses, dressage, eventing, showjumping, hunting – if it involved a horse and riding, I was probably in on it. I even worked for a couple of racehorse trainers riding exercise in my gap year before university.
Sadly, I no longer ride but I’m still horse mad and it’s a pretty fair assumption that when you pick up one of my books there’ll be a horse or two woven into the tale. I simply can’t help it.
Science may not have proven the existence of a gene for horse-mania, but if my family history has anything to do with it, something’s sure going on.