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  • Writer's pictureFran Cleland

The Master: inside the world of an Olympic showjumper

Updated: Nov 28, 2022

BOOK REVIEW:
ABOVE: John Fahey shares his story in The Master.

OLYMPIC showjumper John Fahey’s memoir, The Master, pulls no punches. It is a great read for any horse lover, even if showjumping is not their chosen horse sport.


The John Fahey Story tells of this early Olympic efforts in the sport and the problems encountered dealing with an Equestrian Federation of Australia board that felt it was all powerful.


Fahey’s early life is covered, telling how he worked on the family farm, like many kids of the time, from age four and left school at 14. He was champion boy rider at Sydney Royal Show and competed in sporting events, from stock horses classes to showjumping.


His first trip overseas with the diminutive Bonvale, who still holds the record as the highest-placed Australian horse in Olympic competition, is covered with experiences vividly described in many of his letters back home to family.


The story of the theft of Billy and Chrissy Slater’s horse, Countryman, is the stuff of movies with aeroplanes, guns and cash flying around in the middle of the Nullabor.


ABOVE: The Master.

The Equestrian Federation of the time comes out very poorly. Fahey’s precious Bonvale was actually lost by the EFA’s transport on the way home from the Mexico Games and returned injured and in poor condition.


And later, with Warwick, when Fahey refused to agree with the lease requirement of the EFA that demanded they have complete control of the horse while it was overseas (he was backed up by the other team members), EFA simply cancelled the team. That included Warwick and Kevin Bacon’s famous CXhichester. The EFA advised the public the horses weren’t good enough.


Fahey took Warwick overseas himself. During the campaign, with the horse in great form, he asked the then chairman of Equestrian Australia Sir Alec Creswick if he might start in major events with EFA approval but was told “sorry son, can’t help you, you have to eat humble pie”.

There is the story behind the Western Australia bonanza in the 1980s that changed the face of showjumping in Australia. The development of the World Cup series is also covered, as is Fahey’s own battle with bowel cancer.


His time on the road, travelling with a team of horses from show to show is described as “a fight for survival”.


“I knew if I didn’t win there wouldn’t be enough food for me and my horses,” he wrote.

“It taught me discipline and the will to win.”


It’s a hugely worthwhile book for all horse lovers, and a great Christmas present.


The Master: The John Fahey Story, by John Fahey and Joy Ringrose: $32.95 at bookshops and online.


ABOVE: John Fahey and Bonvale on their first overseas trip.

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