Three Elephant Power and Other Stories HTML version
Concerning a Steeplechase Rider
Of all the ways in which men get a living there is none so hard and so precarious as that
of steeplechase-riding in Australia. It is bad enough in England, where steeplechases only
take place in winter, when the ground is soft, where the horses are properly schooled
before being raced, and where most of the obstacles will yield a little if struck and give
the horse a chance to blunder over safely.
In Australia the men have to go at racing-speed, on very hard ground, over the most rigid
and uncompromising obstacles -- ironbark rails clamped into solid posts with bands of
iron. No wonder they are always coming to grief, and are always in and out of hospital in
splints and bandages. Sometimes one reads that a horse has fallen and the rider has
"escaped with a severe shaking."
That "shaking", gentle reader, would lay you or me up for weeks, with a doctor to look
after us and a crowd of sympathetic friends calling to know how our poor back was. But
the steeplechase-rider has to be out and about again, "riding exercise" every morning, and
"schooling" all sorts of cantankerous brutes over the fences. These men take their lives in
their hands and look at grim death between their horses' ears every time they race or
The death-record among Australian cross-country jockeys and horses is very great; it is a
curious instance of how custom sanctifies all things that such horse-and-man slaughter is
accepted in such a callous way. If any theatre gave a show at which men and horses were
habitually crippled or killed in full sight of the audience, the manager would be put on his
trial for manslaughter.
Our race-tracks use up their yearly average of horses and men without attracting remark.
One would suppose that the risk being so great the profits were enormous; but they are
not. In "the game" as played on our racecourses there is just a bare living for a good
capable horseman while he lasts, with the certainty of an ugly smash if he keeps at it long
And they don't need to keep at it very long. After a few good "shakings" they begin to
take a nip or two to put heart into them before they go out, and after a while they have to
increase the dose. At last they cannot ride at all without a regular cargo of alcohol on
board, and are either "half-muzzy" or shaky according as they have taken too much or too
Then the game becomes suicidal; it is an axiom that as soon as a man begins to funk he
begins to fall. The reason is that a rider who has lost his nerve is afraid of his horse
making a mistake, and takes a pull, or urges him onward, just at the crucial moment when
the horse is rattling up to his fence and judging his distance. That little, nervous pull at
his head or that little touch of the spur, takes his attention from the fence, with the result
that he makes his spring a foot too far off or a foot too close in, and -- smash!