red rum
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The horse was bent over his bit like a bow. His head was tucked into left and his mouth was open showing his parrot-teeth in a snarl. The horse, as was his habit, led with his near-fore leg and, now that he was really galloping, the leg flicked outwards whistling through the air, the hoof thumping the ground, like a boxer again and again left-hooking. It was an action which would have gained him no rosette in the show ring, but which in a race, after a distance when the pressure was on, showed clearly to those who knew him that the great horse had really begun to fly.

His front hooves hammered the sand, so that the shock - when at such instant one small foot supported half a ton propelled over it and forward - was so great that you might think the feet would never stand it. Yet these were the feet which had in his mid-career been so crippled with a bone disease that he had only had fifty-fifty chance of recovery.

His mane blew backwards and so did his lad's thick hair. The lad's body was short and broad, and it bobbed and bobbed above the horse's back, braced against arms and legs like ram-rods. The horse was the joy of this lad's life and that life had had its troubles of every sort. Once, in another place the horse had been the particular love of a stable girl, and his forced parting from her had smashed her interest in racing and in a small way, had broken her heart.

On this lad's face now, racing across the sand, ecstasy and anxiety mixed and flickered, for the horse was triumphantly well - and thus nearly running away with him. The conflict in the lad's face reflected the still unresolved temptations of his life.

The trainer stood very tall by the side of his old truck. Behind it were coupled the harrows with which he had just combed a two-mile-long strip of wrinkled sand, just wide enough for two horses to work upsides. An old tweed cap, greasy-peaked, was perched atop of his large head. "Bursting out around it, the hair which had given him the nickname 'Ginger' flickered grizzled in the wind. His eyes, screwed up against sea-spray and the sting of sand, watched nothing but his horse. On his face burned the glow of exultation.

For this was the horse for which he had been waiting down all those dark years when he and his wife had camped in small rooms with a few sticks of furniture, and money was so short that he was down to borrowing a fiver to pay for a horse to run.

Through all those years, driving a taxi, dreaming of finding one day, somehow, for someone 'The One Good Horse' which would make his name, the trainer had spent money he did not have on horses which were cheap and old and lame and bad. He bought experience most dearly, but he stored it up against the day when the one good horse would come.

The trainer, so far from being born with a silver spoon or golden mangers, had been reared in a back street far from the open world of thoroughbred racehorses and rich friends and introductions into stables. He had no back-ground of horses whatsoever. He had no relation in even the lowest echelon of the racing industry. He was, in addition, the wrong build for the game.

He had glimpsed hope winking fitfully at the end of a shadowy tunnel of setbacks and disasters. He had lost faith sometimes. He had thought the distant light beckoning him on might turn out to be only the winking eye of a harlot. But he, like the horse who now rushed past him like a conquering express into the lashing wall of rain, had struggled on against the odds. For the horse had received in his life much unjust punishment. He had been subjected to sufficient pain from whip and bone disease to make him, had he been human, turn crook or layabout.

The rain passed across the sea. The horse came back walking in the frothy rim of the tide. There, in the shallows a few years earlier, horses and carts had been drawing nets for shrimps codling: horses with torn tendons and twisted joints had become remarkably sound again.

The horse played with his bit and splashed his sound hooves against the sea's surface like a child larking. The horse knew that his work was done, for he was, as his trainer said, 'a true professional'. He was relaxed now. His arrogance had melted into a jaunty content.

He sprang up, plunged down, the steep sand hills behind the Royal Birkdale Golf Course and made his way home, feet clipping the tarmac, leading the little string along the tree-lined avenues of Southport's smarter suburb. Here, where Victorian magnates had erected their red residences in ornate gardens with extensive coach-houses, mothers from flats and newly developed little homes, bustled their children off to school. Because the horse was famous now throughout the land commuters slowed to let him pass. Eyes followed his progress with awe from cars shuttling into Liverpool, where he had struggled for humble victory in his very first race, and later, achieved his glories.

In one commodious mansion in a tranquil street the horses octogenarian owner lay abed. Slightly later rising was the sprightly old gentleman's only concession to the rigorous length of his life. It had begun in poverty in the last century. During it he had created great constructional works across the world and a fortune which he had now settled on his children. For him, as for his trainer, victory at Liverpool, the racecourse of the country, in the Grand National, the great race of the whole year, had been a dream born in adolescence. The owner always remembered his mother running a school and teaching the children to sing each day, 'If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try again'.

So it had been with him, with his trainer and with the horse who now turned towards the railway tracks and the poorer part of Birkdale. He waited at the level-crossing while a Liverpool train clattered past. The gates opened. He crossed and was in his humble street again. On his left lay, in a long and rather dingy row, a sweet shop and tobacconist, a Chinese fish-and-chip shop, a butcher a small wholesale grocer on his right behind the bus shelter, behind the row of parked second-hand cars belonging to his trainer and partner, lay the alley leading into his cosy stable-yard, overlooked by the backs of houses and embracing one solitary tree.

The trainer's wife looked up and out from her modern kitchen into the yard to watch the horse walk in. all those years when weeks were hard and months a struggle, and she had been worried sometimes close to breaking point, her husband had said - and she had not fully understood him - 'All we need is one good horse'. Now she comprehended for what he had striven. The horse had come.

The horse was RED RUM.

RED RUM (The Extraordinary Story of A Horse of Courage)  By Ivor Herbert



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