Fired with his new theories, Billy, just as he had when he was a child, started reading everything he could find about international jumping. In the meantime, after his graduation in January 1949, he took a job with a concert management agency and also took on the showing of a horse named Trader Bedford. The combination was memorable—in 1951 Bedford was horse of the year. At about this same time an announcement was made that future Olympic equestrian teams would be composed of amateur civilian riders, so Billy borrowed a horse and went to the trials. In 1951 he made the team as the alternate rider, and at the Toronto show, third on the schedule, Billy Steinkraus was officially representing the U.S. for the first time. He has ridden on every team but one ever since.
"Actually," said Billy, "riding on the team isn't a completely enviable situation. I'm getting a bad reputation for leaving jobs, I haven't much bank account and will have even less after the 1960 Games. But when you have a chance to represent your country, you don't ask if it is going to be difficult or awkward, but only, How can I make it possible?"
Steinkraus, having made it possible, has settled into a life that satisfies his dual hero-scholar nature. It is a life filled mainly with solitary pursuits: riding, playing the violin, reading and writing. At the USET training grounds at Try on, N.C. last spring, he was given the guest cottage on the grounds of a well-to-do horseman, to the undoubted relief of his fellow teammates who found that the sound of the violin or typewriter can be tedious in the night hours. When I visited him at the cottage, which was as neat as the display window in a furniture store, I found Billy padding around in stocking feet, flicking ashes off the table, putting records on the phonograph, serving up instant coffee and sorting through his mail.
Excusing himself, Billy opened the first of his letters; it was from his mother and bulged with clips from British and American newspapers. A depth perception test engrossed him for several minutes until the phone rang. It was a long-distance call from a publisher, wondering how soon he could expect Steinkraus's editing of a new book on the science of jumping. "I'm so far behind schedule that I feel guilty every time the phone rings or the mail comes," Billy remarked after he had finished. "I've got myself overcommitted. But I really enjoy writing. You know, back when I was still in high school and riding in horsemanship classes, I used to write a weekly column for The Chronicle under the pseudonym Proctor Knott. It was supposed to be the sage observations of a seasoned horseman. It was two years before my identity was discovered, but in the meantime I had a lot of fun lacing into some of my competitors.
"After the Helsinki Games," he continued, "I met a man named Arnold Bernhard at a cocktail party. He put out a weekly, The Value Line Investment Survey. He said he was looking for someone with an analytical mind and, since I thought I had one, I went to work for him as a securities analyst. I had to write projections on certain stocks and I was good at it. I left there with the title of senior analyst to ride in the 1956 Olympics. But I really would like to find time to write some articles or maybe a book on music—I collect first editions and I find it extremely interesting to note how differently the music is played nowadays—the editors have changed it to conform to the taste of the times."
The phone rang again. It was an invitation to dinner later in the week. After a pause, Billy accepted. "I think maybe I was rude to them last week, so I'd better make amends," he said. "Most of the time my rudeness is completely unintentional. It's not that I'm antisocial, but every time I go out, then something is not done. By the time I work four or five horses a day, practice the violin for a few hours, work on some articles I've promised, and write some letters and try to keep up with my reading, there isn't much time left."
He opened another letter; it was from a young fan announcing that he had named his newly acquired parakeet Billy Steinkraus. Billy looked pleased and somewhat surprised. "I'm always startled when I get fan letters," he said. "I always think each one is going to be unique."
He walked to the table and picked up the last of his letters. It was from Japan, a rice-paper strip covered with ideographs; a Western-style sheet covered with typing was enclosed. The typewritten sheet was labeled: "Translation."
"I wish to say thank you," the writer concluded after several paragraphs of halting praise, "for your giving me your picture which to me personally has more worth than the picture of your President Eisenhower.
"P.S. The writting paper I used is the problemed one which our former Prime Minister Yoshida used when he made a speech at your country and your people misunderstood it as the toilet paper. And this writting paper is used these days in Japan very seldom occassion."