Monday, 7 May 2012

In memory of Village Kid

This post is dedicated to Village Kid and to Bill and Norma Horn.

On Tuesday 24 April 2012, Village Kid - the pacing champion and Freo legend - died at the age of thirty one. I was lucky enough to call Village a friend during my time as a stablehand at Bill Horn's pacing stables.

Village with Bill, Tammy (his grandaughter) and Rennae (his great-granddaughter)
Photo by John Mokrzycki Source: The West
The greatness of Village Kid

Village Kid is the greatest pacer in Australian history. During the late 1980s there was no greater racehorse in the country.
He won four West Australian Pacing Cups (the equivalent of the Perth Cup), back-to-back Miracle Miles (the best 1600m race in Australia) and one Inter Dominion Championship (the Melbourne Cup of pacing). In 1987-88, Village won nineteen consecutive class races - a record that still stands today.

Village also made his mark on Freo by often reserving his best for the races held at the old Richmond Paceway in East Fremantle. Bill's achievements as a trainer were recognised when he was inducted into the Fremantle Sporting Walk of Fame in Kings Square.

Bill's plaque in the Fremantle Sporting Walk of Fame
(A lot of these plaques have chewing gum on them. I'd like to see them cleaned by the City)
Bill Horn, his trainer and part-owner, is adamant that Village's greatest moment came in the last race of his career. Village, or Willy as Bill affectionately calls him, won his last race as a thirteen year old (pacers generally race longer than thoroughbreds), setting a world record in the process. Village's last race was run for the Make a Wish charity and Bill always suspected that his champion knew that he was racing for the kids.

I was a nine year old who loved horses when I first heard of Village Kid. I remember it as if it was yesterday. I sat and watched Bill get interviewed as he prepared Village for his tilt at the Inter Dominion Championship. It was exciting when it was later reported that Village confirmed his status as a champion by winning the greatest pacing race in the southern hemisphere. Little did I know that eleven years later I would meet Village for the first time, working as Bill's rookie stablehand.

Meeting Village Kid

I rocked up to Bill's stables not knowing the back end of a horse from the front end. At the beginning I was a skinny university lad with arms like cooked spaghetti. Although I had no experience with looking after horses, Bill decided to give me a chance, probably for the entertainment value as much as anything. He certainly delights in telling the story at every available opportunity of the first time I attempted to lift a full water bucket and almost wrenched my arms from their sockets. It was worth it though - I couldn't believe I got to hang out with Village Kid, although like Bill, he put me through the ringer for my first couple of weeks.

During summer, Bill would take the horses down to Kwinana Beach for a work out and then a swim. Village Kid, at the time a sprightly twenty year old, would tag along. On my first visit to the beach with Bill, I was given the honour of riding Village Kid. (I had only ridden a horse once.)
It was probably another one of their practical jokes. Bill lead Village into the water (probably giving Village a sly wink) with me on his back. The other horses took off and Village just stayed still. He refused to budge. He stood still for the next fifteen minutes, while I sat there flapping my legs ineffectually, whining "come on Village" and looking like a prat. I'm pretty sure I heard Bill chuckling mischievously to himself.

When the horses returned from their first lap, as if on cue (I could swear I heard Bill whistle) Village took off. Riding Village, bareback, through the water was exhilarating. We went a slow steady pace and by the time we had to turn around, I was feeling pretty confident. I didn't know at the time, but it was the usual routine for the horses to canter back through the water. Without even a whinny of warning, Village turned on a five cent coin and took off. He moved through the water like a knife through butter, and I barely hung on.

My memories of Village Kid

From then on, I was in Village's good graces. He was an amazing character. We got into the routine where I'd sit outside his stable after a night on the tiles, watching the horses in the paddock and snoozing. Village would wake me up by licking my fuzzy, shaven head when he wanted some attention.

He was the only gelding that I ever saw bully the colts and stallions.

Village in his paddock
Photo by John Mokrzycki Source: The West
Each morning, as the other horses got their work out around the little track, Village would watch them with an envious look in his eye. I swear that he watched them like a coach. Even in his 20s Village looked like he could give him a run for their money. One time we were at the beach, as Village stolled down to the beach he caught the eye of another trainer. He asked Bill who his new horse was and Bill nonchalently (but with great pride) mentioned that it was Village Kid.

Village would always put the new stablehands through their paces. If he really didn't like a new stablehand, he'd stand at the far end of his paddock and refuse to budge when it was time to go back into his stable, making the stablehand walk out to fetch him. As the stablehand got close, he'd gallop down to the front of the paddock standing at the gate looking back at the stablehand. I'm proud to say that Village never pulled that trick on me.

He sure tried it on with my wife though. He was most unimpressed when I brought my then girlfriend down to the stables. Village liked his carrots like I love light rail. I'll never forget when my wife offered Village a carrot and he gave it a sniff, eyed my wife suspiciously and turned his nose up in the air like someone's aristocratic great aunt being offered a sub-par petit four. Willy eventually got over his misgivings and snuffled down some carrots, but insisted on performing a thorough nasal inspection of each carrot first.

Bill and Norma

Bill and Norma Horn deserve special mention. They were the constants in Village's life. He adored Bill and Norma. It isn't hard to know why, because as much as Village Kid was a special animal he was cared for by equally special people.

Village (as a 30 year old) with Bill
Photo by John Mokrzycki Source: The West
In my life, Bill is best described as the ultimate multi-functional plaza. He has been a mentor, a friend and a family member. Bill likes to brag that along with Village he is also a world record holder - as the world's oldest best man.

Bill (as my best man) and Norma on our wedding day
Bill was the best man at my wedding. When the time came, I could not think of anyone better. Bill did me proud on my wedding day, although he did tell the water bucket story. I was chuffed to have Norma sitting alongside Vanessa's grandmothers at the front of the ceremony.

I wish Bill and Norma all the best as they come to terms with losing such a loved member of their family.

Most of all, thanks for the memories Village.

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