The end of November is not the preserve of the De Kock year-end party or the Summer Cup alone: it’s the beginning of the end of the breeding season, it heralds the launch of our Summer Ready To Run marketing initiatives, and it signals the commencement of the yearling “preps” for the April sales. The social calendar is buzzing too, with visitors from all over the globe, and this evening we host a current head of state, a former head of province, and the newly appointed Ambassador to Australia. There’s no peace, it seems, even for the good in life!
Another one beavering away on plans for the New Year is Leigh Adams, head of our School Of Equine Management Excellence, who’s not only taking leave of those graduates who were awarded Summerhill internships in September, but she’s out there sorting through prospective students for the academic year ahead. The renown of the school has reached faraway places, on the back of the resounding achievements of its scholars, Thabani Nzimande, Hazel Kayiya, John Motaung and others in the international realm, attracting applicants from across the horseracing spectrum, as well as the acknowledgement of government here at home. Much is made these days of the imperative of change in a rapid speed world, where we’re reminded every day, that if the rate of change outside your business is quicker than it is within, your numbers’ up. Yet there are aspects in the time-honoured art of animal-raising that are not only desirable, but critical in their preservation, much understood by those who went before us, but often discarded in the rush to bring on the commercial impositions that count above everything in the space we live in. It’s institutions like this school that bear the custodianship of the old fashioned values that made the modern racehorse what it is now, yet at the same time, they carry the responsibility of teaching that, where science tells us otherwise, we should adapt our habits to embrace the “new” worthwhile.
The rhythm of the seasons and the sight of a frolicking string of testosterone-charged yearling colts on their daily walk, reminded me this morning just how far the art of husbandry has travelled from the time, not so long ago, when it was all ritual and no technology, to November 2014, where scientific advancement and tradition are essential bedfellows in realising the potential of a budding thoroughbred.
Of course, there is room for both worlds, the scientific and the traditional, though “room” in this context may sound condescending. The reality is, the one can’t do without the other: the old arts of horsemanship and creativity which for more than three centuries lay behind the equine heroes whose names we recall to this day, have blended in vivid brilliance with what technology suggests we must keep or discard, enabling us to revere and even enliven, the high traditions of yesteryear. New and often surprising growths have been grafted onto the venerable heritage of the racehorse, where the modern horseman who plies his ancient and apparently unchanging trade, is liable to be thinking a whole manner of new things. Here it is, that old familiar sight of a man and his horse, a bonded clone of the way it used to be, engulfed in lonely thoughts on this lost horizon, crooning songs to themselves as they go. While the melodies are new, the present rejoins the past in ways that are as up-to-date as they are unexpected.
While city dwellers may not be quite as awake to culture and ritual as those of us who live in this bastion of their preservation are, that doesn’t mean these things have lost all meaning. One routine which Cheryl and I followed on a couple-of-times-a-week basis prior to the departure of our Zulu dance troupe for the Edinburgh Military Tattoo a few months back, was our visit to the local township, Bruntville, where our dancers practised in a derelict mini-factory devoid of roof and windows, and strewn with clods of rubble. On our way one evening, we came upon a band of minstrels of a kind that have played in this vicinity since time beyond memory, happily enlarging upon the dramas and nuances of old Zululand to the accompaniment of drums and strings. But that night the music they were playing, to the numerous gathering of local enthusiasts, was not the sobbing rhythm of nostalgia: it was modern rock, possibly in a fashion unlike any in America, Europe, Jo’burg or Durban, but nevertheless indubitably rock. Here again, was the contrast between the new world and the old, vividly at play, recalling at once that somewhere within most of us, there is something that craves its roots, that transcends the scientific and the modern, and takes us back to where it all began.