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Alice Higgins
December 15, 1958
His athletic credo of thought before action has made Billy Steinkraus one of the world's great horsemen
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December 15, 1958

Thinker On Horseback

His athletic credo of thought before action has made Billy Steinkraus one of the world's great horsemen

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"Of course, many horse people are very superstitious"—the howls continued unabated. "Once I let a girl braid the same piece of straw into my horse's tail during three winning performances." The cat joined in the chorus. "Shall we," inquired Billy, "have coffee somewhere else?"

After dinner Billy, accompanied by Ruth and one of the collies, went to the studio where he and his sister live, a cottage which proved to be an adult version of a children's playhouse in the backyard. The single large room was lined from floor to ceiling with bookcases, and contained Ruth's piano, Billy's music stand, a phonograph and an assortment of comfortable chairs, most of which were already occupied by stacks of new books or periodicals. Ruth, who runs a classical disc jockey show for a Bridgeport station, departed in search of material, and Billy piled books on the table to clear the chairs.

A photograph fluttered to the floor; it was a picture of Billy at the Helsinki Olympics where, as a member of the U.S. team, he won a bronze medal.

"This picture," said Billy, tossing it back onto the table, "makes me wonder sometimes if perhaps I am too conservative, perhaps don't ask enough from a horse.

"In thinking out that course, I knew Hollandia, the horse I was riding, had very little experience with water, so I decided that the water jump would be the place where he would have a fault.

"Well, Hollandia went clean until there were just three obstacles left—the water, a big, five-foot gate and the last, an easy fence. He got one foot in the water just as I thought he would, but it happened because I had to pull up quickly in order to get the arc necessary for the vertical gate. He was clean over the gate, and then, quite by accident, he knocked a pole down on the last and easiest fence. If it hadn't been for that pole, I would have been tied for first place.

"I realize now that my decision was wrong. Since it was a chance to win a big event like the Olympics I should have made the all-out gamble, taken the chance of going clean all the way or bringing them all down. Actually, it is just as well, and I don't think I'm rationalizing because I didn't win, but I wasn't good enough then to deserve it."

He picked up a biography of Baron De Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics. "I've often been criticized for not having the proper competitive spirit," he said, leafing through the book. "I don't believe in almost killing a horse to win a class when you know you have to show him in eight more events before the show is over and then go to still another show right away. The most important thing to me is not winning, although I certainly like to do that too, but knowing after you have finished a course that you have exacted the maximum performance from yourself and the horse. That you have given to the fullest all the talents you both have to give. Achieving that, it doesn't matter to me, personally that is, whether I win or lose. Come to think of it," concluded Bill Steinkraus, "I guess Baron De Coubertin would have just loved me!"

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