Socrates: So Winx, when did you first realize that you could run?
Winx: I knew I could run as far back as I can remember. I was born in the Hunter Valley. That’s right. A Newcastle girl by birth. A loyal Knights supporter, through and through. My racing colours might look like I am a Newtown girl (or Mewtown girl… given the silly M on the front of the silks) but my heart is in the Hunter Valley. I digress. Yep. Even back in the paddock, at the Hunter Valley, when I was still with my mum and barely out of nappies I knew that I was pretty quick. You know what kids are like. Us yearlings used to gallop around the paddock all the time to piss off our mums and even back then I would kick the arses of the other little fillies and colts. The colts didn’t like it at all. Most of them were twice my size but that didn’t stop me from kicking their arses.
Socrates: Did your coaches recognize your talent early?
Winx: Oh, Chris, the boss, knew I had a bit of tow at the beginning, but he had no idea that I was going to win races. I moved to his place at Rose Hill when I was old enough to leave mum, but it was ages before we did any serious running. But, even in the beginning, when they just led us around on long leads, put blankets on our backs and let us piss around in the paddock it was obvious to any strapper or coach with half a brain that I was quicker than the other foals.
Socrates: What was it like being a young horse in a professional training yard for race horses?
“I missed pissing around the paddock with the other foals”
Winx: I dunno. I never experienced anything else… so how would I know how good it was. I never had any other option. From what I understand, I had good breeding, so I was always going to be tried out as a pro athlete whether I wanted to or not. But I guess you are asking what happened at the stables? Look. I missed my mum. I missed the other horses back at the Valley. And I missed pissing around in the paddock with the other foals but, overall, I’d have to say that I liked growing up at the yard. We got fed heaps, great food and regular as hell. I was never hungry. The strappers used to give us treats from time to time, too, though I’m buggered if I know whether they were meant to or not. Still. I doubt if the boss would have minded. The stables were warm in winter, cool in summer and the place has an insane pool. We all got plenty of exercise as foals, but we also got lots of rest too. I pretty much liked most of the humans and other horses. You know. There was a dickhead or two, (of both the two-legged and four-legged variety), but most of them were pretty chilled. It was super professional. Everyone pretty much was into getting done what had to be done with as little fuss as possible. That chilled attitude suited me just fine. I can’t stand drama or drama queens.
Socrates: So, it was all pretty positive.
Winx: Now, hang on. I didn’t like the bit being stuck in my mouth when that first started happening. I don’t get why they think that sticking a bit of metal down my throat would make me run any faster, but that’s humans, I guess. They have no freaking idea on some stuff. It’s all about controlling dumb animals, for them. They are so dumb! I wasn’t much fond of the saddle the first time they strapped that on my back, either. And the first time they stuck a rider on my back I was seriously pissed off but not enough to make a song and dance over. I guess, I just figured that it wasn’t the worst thing that could happen and besides, I wasn’t going to be given much choice, so I might as well make the best of it. That being said, generally, we were treated kindly and, in terms of material needs, we had it good. Great care. Great food. Exercise. Training. Rest. Good company. Great facilities. Lots of grooming. By horse standards, we lived in a palace. I guess, being a young race horse in training is a bit like being a kid sumo wrestler. You work hard and there is lots of discipline, but overall, within the limitations of a boarding school atmosphere, you are treated like little kings and queens.
Socrates: Do you remember when the serious training started.
“I bloody hated that stupid bit that they put in my mouth”
Winx: Oh yeah! That was great. For ages it was all about walking, trotting and a bit of a canter with riders on the back which was a bit boring. The cool thing was that they let us young’uns go out for bit of a jog on the track with a couple of the older horses who knew what they were doing. Like I said, initially, we just cantered… but eventually, they let us go and that was the coolest thing ever. Galloping on a race track with the older big horses (who were so much cooler than us) and trying to keep up with them was just amazing. Look. I’m not saying that every horse who comes into a racing stable likes racing. Lots don’t. But, in truth, I did. From the very beginning. It was a pain in the arse having a rider on my back, and I bloody hated that stupid bit they put in my mouth, but it was worth it to get the chance to gallop out with other horses, many of whom were as fast as hell!
Socrates: Do you remember your first official race?
Winx: Too right. What a day. First a ride in the transport truck. That was scary. Then unfamiliar stables and thousands of people! If it hadn’t been a maiden handicap race with a bunch of dodos who had even less idea of what they were doing than I did I would have gotten smashed. I was so nervous. Still, I got a win first up and got the chance to feel what it feels like when everyone makes a huge fuss over you. It got even better. The next day it was all about treats and having a swim in the surf and everyone being nice to me. My second race was cool, too. It was on my home track, so I didn’t have to go through all the stress of a truck ride, unfamiliar stables and unfamiliar track. I won that too so got some more luvvin’ from the boss and everyone.
Socrates: So, then you were a star?
Winx: Star? Are you kidding. When I came back as a three-year-old I was completely crap! Rubbish! Well, I suppose I wasn’t rubbish. But neither was I great. I was small. Not very strong. Really stupid. I had no idea how to run a race. I didn’t know which kind of races I liked. I didn’t know how to work with the riders. I had a degree of natural speed, but my wins were as much luck as they were talent that year. That was a long hard year. I had a couple of wins and a few places but lots of dud finishes too. The boss still had faith in me, but he knew I wasn’t really going as fast as I could. Basically, I was a dopey teenager, I guess.
Socrates: Well, what happened? What changed? How did you become a champion race horse?
“These days we sit back and wait for opportunities”
Winx: I dunno. A whole lot of things happened. I started to grow up, for one. I put on some weight and got stronger. More importantly though, I got smarter. Hugh (my rider) and I started to work better as a team. Hugh and I figured out that I like to sit back and chill for most of a race and that I don’t like to be crowded in and hassled. So, these days we sit back and wait for opportunities. We know that I have heaps of grunt at the finish, so we don’t mind sitting back at the rear of the field until the final turn. Then he lets me go, bit by bit. He has faith in my speed, so he has the confidence to be patient and help me time my runs.
Socrates: And the whip?
Winx: The whip? Hugh wouldn’t dare. No whip is going to make this little black duck go any faster. I see other horses sometimes being thrashed by their riders down the straight. Let me tell you, any horse that needs to be thrashed to make him or her go faster should not be racing. And neither should their riders. Arseholes! Humans at their stupidest! Occasionally, Hugh pushes his crop against my bum to let me know that maximum turbo boost should be applied but I don’t recall him ever giving me a beating. It’s mostly about shortening the reins and pushing his heels into my flanks that tells me to quicken the pace and occasionally a tap with the crop to say I need to take it to the limit. Most often he doesn’t even have to do that. I guess I have got a pretty good natural-instinct about timing my sprint finish.
Socrates: Now it is twenty-nine consecutive wins! Four Cox plates! There are hardly any records you haven’t broken. What makes you so good?
Winx: Well, I’m quick. That helps! My speed doesn’t come from my length of stride. There are heaps of horses, way better than me in that department. But when it comes to moving these little brown legs one after the other quickly, I am hard to beat. Good natural muscle fibre, I guess, and the bosses training also helps with that. And I know what I am good at. I stick to the middle distances that suit an all rounder like me. And I am smart. Any big, dumb, stallion can win a sprint race where it’s all about power and pace. But to keep winning at middle distance races, you must be calm and smart and know how to work with your rider. I shouldn’t say bad things about stallions, but seriously. There are some good ones out there but most of them are foot shuffling, stomping, snorting brainless idiots. With all the advantage of muscle, power and size that they have they should never lose a race. But they do. Poor dears. Dumb as hell. I know people that coach teenage human boys and girls in basketball and soccer and it’s the same with them. Teenage boys are great when it comes to athleticism, but they are just crap at thinking and leaning, so I am told. It’s the geldings and the mares that I usually worry about.
Socrates: Life back at the stables is good for you?
Winx: Don’t get the wrong impression. We pros work bloody hard at our job. Up before dawn every day. We work and train six days out of seven. We only go flat out one or two times a week, but those sessions are hard! I have buddies who get nose-bleeds every time they go hard! That scares me a bit. I sometimes wonder whether its good for you.
While we are in training we are either working, feeding, being treated for injuries or soreness or being groomed from dawn until dusk. But we are treated well and given nothing but the best of everything. If you think that I get special treatment back at the yard because I have won a few races you have another think coming. Every horse is treated pretty much the same. Every horse is working to its own program and we are all working hard. The boss is not only dealing with me, but he is giving equal attention to a lot of other athletes who need his help (and the attention of everyone else there) daily. It’s pretty egalitarian, actually.
Socrates: But you do get holidays.
“It’s not like going to Dream World!”
Winx: Ah yeah. Every few months we get turned out to some fancy paddock somewhere for six to eight weeks to have a rest and get a change of scenery. Look. The rest is good. But, I’ve gotta tell ya. It’s not like going to Dream World. Or having a ski holiday in Japan. Or a few weeks snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef. We are expected to lay around and do nothing in some fancy looking paddock that has all the natural charm of a freaking man-made golf course. It’s all fences and special feed and vets checking up on us to make sure we don’t do anything dangerous or fun. Sheesh! I tell you. It would be much more fun galloping around the wildness with some mates but there is none of that. After six weeks of being fed and doing nothing I am happy to be back at the training base where at least we can have some action.
Socrates: So… would you recommend the life of a professional athlete… the life of a race horse… to other young horses.
Winx: I dunno? I guess its alright. I love winning races. I enjoy the attention. I admit that I have an ego and it feels pretty good having so many people love me. But would I rather be doing something else? Maybe. Who knows. I’ve never done anything else and it’s not like I have any choice. If I did have a choice what would my options be? A hunter? A jumper? A police horse. An Olympic athlete? An eventer? A kid’s pet? A wild horse in the wilderness? A wild horse being shot at because I am buggering up some farmer’s pasture? An animal allowed to roam around in a paddock with a few other horses, having a bit of fun from time to time, but basically not going anywhere and just waiting to die? I’m not sure any of us horses have it all that good. At some stage in the future I guess I am going to get a bit sick of this racing caper. Hopefully the boss will figure out quickly that I no longer have my heart in it and I will end up doing something else. Trouble is, while everyone will do their best to make sure that I am treated well at whatever I end up doing, there is no guarantee that what I will be doing is what I want to do. In fact, you can bet that I won’t be. That’s one thing about being a horse. Most of the time the first consideration is what some human wants a horse to do rather than what the horse wants to do. “I’d rather be doing something else,” is not something that gets a lot of consideration when it comes to us horses.