This is to let you know that the videos are on hold for a little while. In 8 days time I leave for a 5 week trip to the USA and Canada for clinics. I have so much to do before I go that I have been stressing about getting it all done. So at Michèle’s suggestion, I am putting the video making aside for the moment to take the pressure off. However, they will be back. I have a lot of ideas of things I want to bring to your attention in video form and I promise the videos will return.
In the meantime, I am reprinting the Satts stories from quite awhile back. When first published they were hugely popular and since then the following for this page has more than doubled. So this is a chance to introduce Satts to a new audience. And for those that have previously read about Satts, I hope the concepts I have been discussing will give you some new insights into his story and the work I did with him - including the many many mistakes I made.
Just a note to let you know that the events are as close to true as I can remember, but they occurred about 25 years ago.
I had only moved to Victoria six months earlier. I was living on a 30 acre property owned by an absent doctor who was looking for a part time caretaker. It had a beautiful open plan house with an upstairs mezzanine. There were 2 stables and 6 paddocks, a round yard, 2 acre dam and a quiet dead end dirt road. The owner grew blueberries and wine grapes and would visit a few times a year to enjoy the country atmosphere and play farmer for short periods. My responsibilities were to mow the lawns, keep the irrigation working for the grapes and berries and provide security. There was plenty of room for my 2 horses and lots of time that I could continue my research career at the university. It was a perfect setup – no rent, easy responsibilities and all the space and facilities for riding my horses.
It was nearing bedtime for me when the phone rang. I thought about not answering it, but I had an important experiment running and it might have been one of my lab techs calling to say I was needed in the lab. It was my dad.
Dad didn’t usually call. Mostly mum did all the telephoning. Dad was not very good at small talk. He started with all the usual like “how are ya, son” and “how’s work” and “do ya need any money”. At this point is was normal for him to say “well, good talkin to ya - here’s ya mother.” But he didn’t this time.
“Son, I got a horse that isn’t doing too well. Geoff (the trainer) says he can’t race because he is too crazy. Nobody wants to handle him and they can’t get him broken in. Do ya reckon you could take him for a bit and see what ya can do with him. I’ll pay ya and take care of all the expenses. He’s a Karla Dancer foal and worth giving him some time.”
“Well dad I’m really busy at work at the moment with some big experiments that I need to get done before my application for a new NH&MRC grant is due in October. I have to have the preliminary data ready for that, so I don’t know how much time I’ll have for training a horse.”
“I’m in no hurray. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get around to him for a while, “ dad said. “But I don’t know what to do about him. He’s a Karla Dancer foal and worth putting in the time. I think he has real potential, but everyone thinks he’s nuts. I’d appreciate it if you could just check him out for me. Otherwise, I might have to put him down because nobody wants to deal with him.”
Dad said the magic words. I couldn’t stand the thought that a horse would be destroyed just because I didn’t find the time to help out.
“Okay dad. Let me check with the fellow that owns this place that it’s okay to have another horse here. I think he’ll be fine if it’s just for a while, but I had better ask anyway. Don’t worry about paying me. If I can help, I’m happy to help. Let me get Geoff’s phone number from you and I’ll call him and talk to him to get the story and make arrangements for the horse to come down from Sydney. Now let me speak to mum.”
A few days after I had cleared things with the good doctor that it was okay to have the horse for a while, I called the trainer.
“Well mate, we call him Satan and that should tell you all about him. He’s hurt a strapper when she was leading him and another when she went into his stall to check his water. He threw the breaker out of the saddle by grabbing his leg and reefing him to the ground. He can’t be put with any other horses. He’s a bastard and needs to be put down. He’s too dangerous and is going to kill somebody one day. The breaker won’t ride him anymore and nobody wants to handle him. I’ve told your dad that he is a pig and should be shot, but for no reason I can work out he’s seems fond of the horse. If you can do anything with him, good luck. But be careful ‘cause he will hurt you if you let your guard down.”
We agreed that Satan would be put on a transporter the next week heading for Melbourne. I felt butterflies in my stomach at the thought at what I had got into. If he really was this dangerous did I really want to work with this horse? What could I do when everybody else had failed? If the breaker refused to get on him, why the hell should I? Bloody hell, what was I in for?
Work had been incredibly busy with some really long nights and early mornings. My experiment had had a couple of near disasters, which had kept me up working late into the night and even into the wee hours. The stress and long hours had almost made me forget that Satan was coming to holiday, until the phone rang at 6:30 in the morning. It was the transport fellow telling me they had Satan at their Melbourne depot and would be delivering him that afternoon. We made a time that I thought I could be home by and gave them directions. I told them if I was late to just put the horse in the round yard, which was just at the top of the drive, by the house.
“Mate, ya don’t wanna be puttin this horse in a yard. He’ll either jump out or he’ll run you over tryin to catch him. Have ya gotta a stable to use until he settles in? It needs to have a top and bottom door that ya can lock.”
Shit! What type of tragic case is this horse? I told them I would be there to meet them and to keep him in the truck until I got home.
I went outside to check the stables. They had not been used for some time. I cleaned what was left of some old manure and topped up the bedding with fresh sawdust then raked it smooth. The automatic waterer was working, but the system needed to be flushed to clear out the grunge that had accumulated in the pipes. The stable could be locked with top and bottom bolts on each door, but the screws holding them looked flimsy. I went to the tool shed and managed to find 2inch screws and a hand drill. I replaced the screws and then checked the strength of the hinges. The doors were pretty heavy duty and the builder had used good, strong hinges and screws to set them with. The stables were lined with quarter inch rubber to a height of four feet up the wall. I figured this would be sufficient protection if Satan decided to use the stable walls for soccer practice. I didn’t know what sort of trouble Satan might cause, but I wanted to be ready for anything. I felt like I was preparing for war; and perhaps I was.
As soon as I walked into my office at work the phone rang. The departmental head wanted to see me about how I had been dodging teaching duties. As I was about to walk down the corridor to his office my senior technician came to tell me the control serum we had been using for the ACTH assay was contaminated. Halfway to the department head’s office the surgery technician told me he had double booked the surgery and we would have to postpone our experiment for a day. This was how my day continued until 4pm – one headache or complaint after another.
Jen, the research assistant knocked on my door as I was reading a student’s draft PhD thesis.
“You wanted me to tell you when it was 4 o’clock.”
I threw the thesis and a few papers into my brief case and headed for home with some curiosity and a bit of nervousness. I wanted to know what dad had sent me. But I was worried that Geoff was right and the horse should be put down. I certainly wasn’t going to get hurt for the sake of doing my father a favour, but I promised dad I was going to give this horse a chance. I felt every horse deserves a chance. Having been around racing people most of my life, I knew that they didn’t always do everything possible to make a horse’s life as easy as possible, with minimum stress. Maybe Satan was just misunderstood and didn’t fit well into the cookie cutter training methods of your average racehorse trainer.
When I drove my old Renault 25 up to the house the horse truck was already parked in the turning circle. When I got out of the car I could hear a horse calling from inside the horsebox. Two fellows stepped out of the truck.
“Well we got ‘im here. I dunno how we are goin to go getting ‘im out . Ya want ‘im in that stable over there?”
Yeah, that’ll do,” I said. “Do you want a hand?
“Nah, mate. Ya betta wait here. He might come out a bit quick.”
The whir of the motor on the side ramp of the truck caused Satan to begin to stomp and call even more. As the ramp lowered I could see the enlarged white eyes on an imposing steel grey head. He was beautiful.