Looking for gold: What betting on horses can teach us

I spent the early part of this week involved with horses. Mind you it was nothing to do with the Melbourne Cup, although I "dips me lid" to Rekindling and his/her connections.

My involvement with horses concerned the great heritage of the working horse, rather than the racing nags.

You see, I have a little place in the mountains where the famous 1982 movie The Man From Snowy River was filmed.

In fact, my near neighbour, Jack Lovick really was right in the middle of it. Jack is the legendary horseman who bought all of his horses together for the movie.

He also taught Tom Burlinson as Jim Craig how to ride for that incredible scene when the Man from the Snowy charges down an impossibly steep mountainside to capture the brumbies and take them home.

The movie put our little town of Merrijig on the map, as it did its investors. The $3 million production grossed $17 million at the box office.

But as an infamous Governor General once slurred at the presentation of the cup at the great Melbourne race " it's all about the horse" and indeed it is.

Humans love horses and whenever I have international visitors to my shack by the Delatite River I always get Charlie Lovick to ride a team of stock horses through the river waving the Australian Flag. The visitors love the feeling of being part of a living history, and they are.

One guest Stephane Martin, the great Director of the Musee du Quai Branly in Paris, reckoned he preferred watching Charlie pounding through the river bed than the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

And then there was the memorable visit of Sir Andrew Davis, Chief Conductor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and formerly of the BBC Proms.

As our man from Snowy river plunged into the water I told Andrew that it was tradition to feed the horse an apple. Charlie's great quarter horse Dobbin, knew how to play the game.

We gave Andrew the apple and told him to grip it between his teeth and explained that the only way the now 16-year-old Dobbin would eat it would be him chomping it directly from Andrew's mouth.

"Cripes," says Louise, "Couldn't you have got a foot-long carrot for the poor chap to offer?"

But Andrew came away smiling and with photos to send home showing how the mountain men of down under feed their animals.

And of course, there was lots of feeding of all kinds going on out at Flemington Race Course on Tuesday. I had years of firsthand experience when our company used to have a marquee for the entire spring carnival.

Many secrets were revealed over the champers and chicken sandwiches. Being a nondrinker, I usually found that the business reconnaissance steadily improved as the champagne dwindled.

But my best memory was hosting actor Willem Dafoe after his appearances in the 2001 Melbourne Festival. As a New Yorker, he expected a heavy mafia presence and no women.

His mood changed as he moved through a very friendly and heavily female crowd to place a bet while the whole crowd was whispering in bubbly breaths "I know that face" until one woman shrieked "Its Willem" and charged at him as if he was the finishing line.

But back to the Man from Snowy River for a moment. It's a complicated story of love, adventure and doing the right thing.

Kirk Douglas was here playing the dual roles of Harrison and Spur, two brothers in love with the beautiful Matilda; the mother of Jessica, played by Sigrid Thornton. Matilda declared that out of the two men vying for her love she would marry the first to make his fortune. Spur went looking for gold and Harrison bet his life savings on a horse race. Harrison became rich overnight when the horse won, and he went back to win Matilda.

It seems that betting on horse races has been in our blood right from the beginning. So has looking for gold. My fascination with horses continues and as our political and business environment swirls around like dust kicked up by a herd of wild brumbies, I think of the lessons that the equines can teach us.

Like never stand behind a horse, because it has a kick you'll never forget. And make sure you clean up after yourself, because what horses leave behind is messy.

Sadly, I think the events of this week in Canberra should have had someone walking behind with a shovel. There's been far too much of it left on the ground.

And finally, as Charlie Lovick says, "never change horses mid-stream".

But looking for gold and betting on a horse are still part of our Australian character - and let's hope it is forever.

This story Looking for gold: What betting on horses can teach us first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.