Monday, August 13, 2018

Book Review: ARKLE: The Story of the World's Greatest Steeplechaser

Wednesday August 8 2018

Can you name the world's greatest steeplechaser?

If you can't, you should know: ARKLE.

And when you read this book, there will be no doubt that this Irish steeplechaser who ran in the 1960's was transcendent among his kind.

What is it about the national hunt racing and steeplechasing in Great Britain and Ireland that gets to me? Chapter 2 in my book Soul Deep in Horses gives you a glimmer of the romance of working in an Irish yard, grooming and leading 'round the paddock the heroic grand Thoroughbreds who willingly (most of the time) hurl themselves over monster fences and ditches, and either stay on their feet or fall and get back up onto their feet. It got so it was hard for me to watch their races, but at the same time I couldn't not watch, gritting my teeth and cringing at the rough and tumble sport, but mesmerized at the magnificent power and heart and athleticism of the jump horses.

ARKLE: The Story of the World's Greatest Steeplechaser, by Sean Magee, brings to life this spectacular gelding who ran from 1961-1967 in England and Ireland, winning an astonishing 27 of his 35 races. He beat the best of the best, and became better than the best.

Part of the reason, I'm sure, that I have a special jumping spot in my horse for Arkle, is that he ran over some of the very tracks I led our racehorses around the paddocks and onto the turf: Navan, Naas, Fairyhouse, Leopardstown. Punchestown. In another day and time, like 30 years earlier, I might have been leading the God himself!

Yes, there was that 1964 season, March 7 to be exact, "the day Arkle became a God." That was the day he beat the reigning jumping great, Mill House, to win the first of his 3 consecutive Cheltenham Gold Cups, the greatest steeplechase on earth (not to be confused with the Grand National - the other greatest steeplechase on earth, but one Arkle never ran in, as his owner, Anne, Duchess of Winchester, thought it too dangerous). He simply, and widely, was referred to as "Himself." Capital H, of course,

Then there was his '65-66 "Arkle for President" season - because he really was that incredibly amazing. (Someone had scribbled this phrase on a Dublin wall in 1965.)

That he was personable and loved people, and he loved to run and jump, and loved the adulation, just adds to his incredible story.

Himself is magnificent eye candy, no?

*By the way, I do have a couple of the Arkle 2020 bumperstickers.
Arkle for President in 2020? Why not! Is there anyone else more magnificent? (Read the book, and you'll agree.)

$5 includes mailing, PM me theequestrianvagabond at gmail dot com if you've got a sense of humor and you're interested.

**By the way, Spell Check likes to correct "Arkle" to "ankle". seriously??? Spell Check needs to learn the greatest steeplechaser of all time's name.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Nyssa Nite Rodeo Part III: The Art of the Rodeo

Thursday August 9 2018

Nyssa Nite Rodeo Part I: All the Pretty (Rodeo) Horses is here. 

Nyssa Nite Rodeo Part II: All the Pretty Cowgirls and Cowboys is here.

For the crowds in the stands, the events are all glitter and spectacle, dash and splash and crash.

It's the in-between-events and the behind-the-scenes context where I found the art. From the press box, and down in the hole where all the stock is prepped and the power is constrained and the electric nerves hum, I found some cool shots.

Exloding right out of the gate on a bronc, into the sunset of a wide-open arena

The myriad lariats the pickup men use. Depending on the event - bareback broncs, saddle broncs, or the most rankest of them all, ranch broncs - and often depending on the particular bronc - the lariats are carefully coiled and hung, and then before each horse (or bull) leaves the chute, each pickup man deftly and calculatingly chooses the right lariat like an artist chooses the right brush.

Delicately trying to get a halter on one of those rank ranch broncs without getting knocked out

The classic bucking pose

Making sure his saddle is firmly planted… or bowing his head in prayer

One of the heroes of the rodeo - one of the pickup men

These pickup men were, seriously, The Art of the Rodeo. Working wordlessly but cannily and seamlessly together, they rescued cowboys, delicately danced and rowdily roughhoused, foxtrotting and swirling, spinning and cajoling and dragging and shoving, flirting with disaster, to persuade these crazy broncs out of the arena. Watching them, I couldn't help being hypnotized by their skill and, just, art.