Judging the hacks [short story by Jack Moses]

[Editor: This is a short story from Beyond the City Gates: Australian Story & Verse (1923) by Jack Moses.]

Judging the hacks

Not the least important section of the schedule of the Annual Exhibition of Wattle Flat is the 12-stone hacks; a most magnetic section, which has the power of attraction, stirring to the full the honest pride of local owners of all classes of mounts and creating a determination to bear all comers.

I have known more heartburnings created through what was alleged to be a “misplacing” of the “blue” in this class than in any other section of the Wattle Flat Show — or those run by kindred organisations. I have known the decision of judges to blast the friendship of years, and the chap who obtained the “red” to blast the judge. This pride in your own particular bit of horse-flesh is surely a fine trait in the character of man.

Wattle Flat was no exception to the rule in regard to the possession of this pride, and every owner, from every hamlet and every village around, had entered his high-bred equine for honours — with the belief that the “prize” contest was all over “bar shouting” when the judge issued his ring ultimatum.

Who is it whose good fortune it has been to attend the Annual Wattle Flat Show that cannot recall the ripple of excitement permeating the Stands and Circle on the announcement of “Twelve-stone hacks get ready!”? Who is it upon these occasions who has not, when the announcement was made, forsaken all the other attractions of the show and scrambled to the ringside or the Stand to watch the preliminaries of the “twelve-stoners” guided to glory or to shattered hopes? Who is it who cannot to-day visualise the figure of the authority supreme — the Judge — as he motions the cantering competitors to halt in front of him in order to undergo the preliminaries of judgeship?

Then begins the practical judging in connection with which the reputation of the Society lies in the hands of the “figure in the limelight in the centre of the ring.” The appointment of this adjudicator, as the local “Banner” terms him, was no doubt the cause of long and heated arguments in the committee-room some months back.

Now the competitors — after having undergone an examination as searching as the Health Officers’ Vaccination Test, are commanded to reverse, and what seems more important, to canter faster. Suddenly, by the orthodox signal of an extended arm, the competitors are brought to a standstill in front of the man of power. Then begins the system of elimination, the system which is responsible for golden opinions held of the judge being shattered at one fell swoop. Anyhow, the judge is there to uphold the reputation of his capabilities, and only four of the twelve-toners which indulged in preliminaries are adjudged to comply with conditions laid down by the Horse Committee, headed by the local doctor. By a strange freak of circumstance the local medico is always looked upon as a necessary unit of the Hack Section of the Horse Class. The remainder of the competitors are dismissed from the ring — inwardly angry and outward crestfallen.

Then comes the second diagnosis. The eyes of the four left in are inspected; the mouth and the legs are minutely examined; one is discarded, and then there are three. Each of the remaining riders picks faults, mentally, with the points of his opponent, and little devices are resorted to in order that each particular steed shall show his paces. This is merely the human failing of playing to the gallery.

The judge grows determined. Handing his umbrella to the steward, he walks over to the big grey, straining at his bit; he commands the rider to dismount, flops into the vacant saddle and begins the circus — otherwise a “general manner and pace test.” To the kids of Wattle Flat it was “the old bloke trying to out the grey.” With dignified seat the judge walks, trots, canters, wheels and turns, cutting the figure eight, and, as the local brass band renders appropriate music at this stage, the grey enters with friskiness into the proceedings. Satisfied with the capabilities of his mount, the judge dismounts to run the remaining competitors through the same ordeal, but sometimes without the necessary music, for even at Wattle Flat the trombone player requires respite from music-making, even though it be to assist towards more spirited prancing of the Twelve-stone Hacks.

At this critical juncture the throb of expectancy is moving spectators to greater interest.

“The grey’ll get it,” is the opinion of one section.

“Naw, the bay’s my fancy,” remarked another.

“I like the piebald,” is the expression emanating from the group of Wattle Flat flappers, in charge of the clerk from the local branch of the big city bank.

“No chance,” leers the butcher boy nearby; “ain’t got no grit or any quality, as the boss says.”

Still moments of suspense; the judge is yet undecided; the steward waits patiently with am armful of ribbons — blue, red, and white, each of which bears the name of “Wattle Flat Society,” printed in letters of gold; these letters of gold will probably have turned to black by the time the steward has fulfilled his onerous duty of handing the colours to the judge.

At last the pent-up feelings of the crowd give way. The judge steps forward with elastic tread, and places the blue around the neck of the piebald. A murmur of disapproval comes from the ringside; it swells towards the Stand, and suddenly from under the rails a figure is bounding through the ring and approaching the steward.

“The bay horse with black pints compatin’ there is my horse, and me son is ridin’ him. Good judges do tell me he’s a good horse, and what I want to know is why he hasn’t got the blue ribbon. He’s compated for the last fifteen years, and never once has he missed, and yit to-day, with yer judgin’, a piebald bates him. You know nuthin’ of judgin’; you don’t know a horse from — from” — almost at a loss to make comparison, he finishes off — “from a hole in the road.”

The steward is compassionate, and of course very sympathetic. “All right, Mr. Watson” — then more sympathetically, “the fact is your horse is getting on in years — and you know he’s done very well.” Then, waxing more explanatory, he adds: “There’s a lot of water run under the bridge of Midgee Creek since your horse was foaled, and the piebald is a young horse. This, of course,” assures the diplomat of the ribbon distribution department, “the judge has taken into consideration.”

But the explanation did not quite allay the wrath of the irate Watson; it took more than water to quench the flame of virtuous indignation.

“Oh — oh, yes, there’s a lot of water run under the bridge since my horse was foaled. Well, look here, me smart man, if it was whitewash that run under the bridge for ever so long it wouldn’t clean up the skin of the dirty piebald. To Hell with yer piebalds, when me horse is in the ring with me son ridin’ him. Take him home, Bill,” he shouted to his son as he turned in disgust from the presence of the steward, while the ringmaster called “General Parade of Prize-winners.”

Jack Moses, Beyond the City Gates: Australian Story & Verse, Sydney: Austral Publishing Co., 1923, pages 33-36 (the related photo is on an unnumbered page between pages 32 and 33)

Editor’s notes:
bar shouting = from the phrase “all over bar the shouting”, referring to something which is not yet finished, but where the outcome is certain

fell = bad, cruel, destructive, fierce, or sinister (as used in the phrase “one fell swoop”)

Vernacular spelling in the original text:
bates (beats) [Irish]
compatin’ (competing) [Irish]
compated (competed) [Irish]
judgin’ (judging)
me (my)
nuthin’ (nothing)
ridin’ (riding)
yer (you)
yit (yet)

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