"Well," said Billy, somewhat nonplused, "I wonder just what he has against Eisenhower."
This fall, on a rainy evening, relaxed before the fire in his parents' Westport, Conn., home, Billy Steinkraus spoke in an introspective vein of his own performance in the ring. "Occasionally," he said, "I wish I could ride blindly, act instinctively—it would be so much easier." He patted the sleeping collie on the sofa at his side. "I'm still convinced that for any consistency of performance, particularly in international competition, the only answer for me is training and control." He stared into his glass of Scotch. "By control, of course, I don't mean just the horse for, in order to achieve that, as I've said before, the rider must have complete control of himself. I remember when I was a child, I had a very bad temper—probably the result of being the youngest and most indulged. But when I was in my teens I spent a lot of time around a horseman with an even more ungovernable temper than I. Seeing the results of those rages on both people and horses taught me such a lesson that I set out to learn how to handle mine. The result is now that it is almost impossible for me to lose it—to really have a temper fit."
He brushed some dog hair off his sleeve and reached for the Macadamia nuts on the coffee table. "I've always been able to get along with animals," he said, "and in particular with temperamental or nutty horses. I can make them enjoy what they are doing. All horses are neurotic and riding them is a question of finding or correcting their reaction to false stimuli. Then one must build up a mutual trust."
Taffy, the collie on the couch, thumped her tail and Billy looked up. His mother, with another collie on a leash, came in, smiled her greetings and, patting Taffy, said, "Ruth is home, so as soon as I take care of the cats, we'll have dinner. Billy, will you see about the wine?"
A short time later that part of the Steinkraus family then in Westport (Mr. Steinkraus, a former president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, was out of town on a business trip, and the elder daughter Marjorie in Paris) assembled at the table. The two collies and a cat came too.
"How are the horses working, dear?" inquired his mother as Billy poured the wine. "Are they ready?"
Billy, never one to be blinded by the rosy side of things, permitted himself to be cautiously optimistic.
"We're in good shape," he said, helping himself to the roast beef being passed by the maid, "but we are in a kind of ironic position. In aiming for the Olympics, we developed a first-rate European-type team, as this summer proved. Now we are indoors and facing different conditions, which has meant retraining the horses to a certain extent."
A growling and snarling broke forth from beneath the table. "Fences and courses," Billy went on unperturbed, "should be so constructed as to test both the ability and the training of the horse." The growling rose in volume. "We don't do that well enough in America. In the big European events and in the Olympics there is every kind of test—verticals, horizontals, combinations, tight turns, long distances." The growls reached a crescendo and the table shook. Billy put down his napkin, continuing his dissertation without pause. "There isn't any time to correct a mistake between obstacles." He reached under the table and came out with a dog. "There your procedure must be well thought out in advance." He pushed the reluctant dog through the kitchen door and returned to the table, still talking. "That is why it is so important to walk a course and to translate it into the number of strides the horse will need." He reached under the table and collared the other dog. "I measure my own stride from time to time just to be sure I'm not taking a longer or shorter step, as a check on my calculations." He pushed the second collie into the living room. The cat took advantage of the commotion to jump from the window to the table. "After that, it is largely up to the rider." He picked up his napkin and sat down. "If the horse is willing, and Lord knows he is an extremely generous animal, often more than people deserve—" he caught sight of the cat at the end of the table and said "Shame!" Whereupon the cat retreated to the window—"and if he is able, and by that I mean placed in a position where he can do the possible, then it is about 99% certain that he will jump clean." The collie exiled in the kitchen started to howl. "The approach is the important part; going over the fence itself the easy part. But a rider must never, never lie to a horse." The cat had slipped back onto the table in a strategic position near the whipped cream. "He must never tell him by the position of the body, by the restraining or compelling aids, that he is going to do right when by virtue of his position he can't help but do wrong." He picked up the cat and opened the front door. "Only a really great horse can learn to ignore the rider," Billy shouted from the hall. It was still raining so he pushed the cat into the living room, "but the average horse will soon be confused and spoiled."
The dogs began to howl again and Billy raised his voice. "Things happen because of a certain series of causes in the show ring. A pole doesn't come down because of bad luck; it comes down because the horse hit it, and if he hit it it's probably because the rider couldn't make him approach the fence correctly, or because the horse knows it won't hurt him to rub against the pole. A lot of our American fences are so flimsy that the horse has no respect for them.