The Horses’ Birthday – The Story of Mirrabooka

20130801-182341.jpgIt’s August first which means every Australian horse just got a year older.

So just how did this miraculous event come about that every horse in Australia has the same birthday; we all know they weren’t actually all born on the same day. And why the first of August in particular?

Well, originally it only applied to race horses. The reason for having an official birth date for thoroughbreds like Phar Lap and trotters like Hondo Grattan is because horses are raced according to age and in order to alleviate confusion when entering horses in races, their date of birth is deemed to be on August 1st of the year in which they were born.

But why August 1st? The choice of date has to do with the breeding season. Breeders generally try and breed in September or October so that the horse will be born as soon after August 1st as possible (the gestation period for horses being 11 months).

This way the horse will be as mature as possible when it begins racing. Just think, if you were born on the 25th of July you’d only be physically a week old when you officially turned one year old. Imagine then 3 years later, you’re really only 2 yo but you’re racing against some other bloke born on August 7 who really is pretty much 3 yo.

So why all horses then? In many cases there may be age classes in showing (such as the Sydney Royal) where the horse’s age is required to enter, so August 1st is used. The same is true for young horse classes in dressage. In essence it’s all about fairness in competition.

To mark this ‘Horse’s Birthday the following information is about a local horse, Mirrabooka, and the role he played in the helping his owner and rider, Neale Lavis, win a team gold medal and an individual silver medal in the Rome 1960 Olympics and then helping Neale Lavis represent Australia at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964

In December 1959 an equestrian team sailed to England on the Blue Funnel liner s.s. Jason with the intention of competing in events in England in the run up to the 1960 Olympics in Rome. They returned a year later in triumph with two gold and one silver medal one in the three day equestrian events. Neal Lavis from Bodalla and his horse Mirrabooka were part of the team and Neale won the silver medal.

John Sewell
MDHS Journal
March, 2004

Eventing: Team Gold - Laurie Morgan & Salad Days, John Kelly (Reserve), Neale Lavis & Mirrabooka, Bill Roycroft & Our Solo, Brian Crago & Sabre.
Eventing: Team Gold – Laurie Morgan & Salad Days, John Kelly (Reserve), Neale Lavis & Mirrabooka, Bill Roycroft & Our Solo, Brian Crago & Sabre.

Mirrabooka, a born and bred Monaro horse, made Australia proud when he was a member of the equestrian team which performed so well at the Rome Olympics in 1960.

Mirrabooka, aboriginal for the Southern Cross, was the result of a breeding between Idex, a thoroughbred stallion owned by Tom Shanley of Adaminaby and a thoroughbred mare owned by Jim Sherlock of “Kia-Ora” Cooma. He was foaled at “Kia-Ora” in the early 1950’s.

Jim had broken in the horse when it was a three year old and three months later he won two hack awards and a championship award on him at the Cooma Show. In 1957 Mirrabooka was sold to Neale Lavis for one hundred pounds and a partnership between horse and rider was immediately formed. 123

At the Sydney Royal in 1959 Mirrabooka and Lavis performed exceptionally well in the dressage and then at Royal Melbourne they won both of the two-day events and came second in the three-day event.

These successes ensured their selection in the Olympic Team. The team of riders and horses sailed together for six weeks to London in a cargo ship and then flew to Rome just 24 days prior to the Olympic events.

It was necessary for the team to ride their horses back and forwards through Rome to the training grounds each day. The Australian team of Laurie Morgan, Bill Roycroft and Neale Lavis won gold in the Teams Event. Morgan won the individual gold medal in the three-day event, while Lavis aboard Mirrabooka won the silver medal.

Neale  described Mirrabooka thus: “He was so tractable and understanding. He had a great temperament. He was so careful and gentle and above all he would always try his heart out. I was offered ten thousand pounds for him after the Olympics but would never sell”.

Information A copy of the complete article on Mirrabooka can be obtained from the Moruya and District Historical Society
Mirrabooka and the Rome Olympics , by John Sewell, March 2004.
This journal is available from the society for $4.00

Do you have any anecdotes or recollections about Mirrabooka or Neale Lavis?
Were any of your friend or family present at the ‘Welcome Home’ functions that took place in Moruya following Neale’s return from the Rome Olympics?

If so please share them in the Leave A Reply section below.

3 responses to “The Horses’ Birthday – The Story of Mirrabooka”

  1. Will Atkinson Avatar
    Will Atkinson

    Neale Lavis is my grandfather on my mothers side

  2. Bernie Stack Avatar
    Bernie Stack

    Hi, I was wondering if anybody had a photo of the Australian Eventing Team on the boat SS Jason in 1960 on their way to the Rome Olympics, Many thanks.

  3. Andy ferguson Avatar
    Andy ferguson

    Mum and Dad; Alan and Barbara Ferguson went to Neil’s reception, where Neil showed everyone the medals, in the CWA rooms in Vulcan street, we kids watched the black and white TV in H G Palmers window next door while we waited.
    Neil wanted to bring Mirabooka home; big cost with time in quarantine, locals ran charity to help with the cost.
    Mirabooka Avenue in Moruya is named after the horse.
    I was a kid in the pony club, Neil used to attend over at the Moruya Showgrounds; Rose Davage also attended on a beautiful big yellow horse.
    Small town then; Sydney was a long way away, dirt road to Nowra, ferries all the way including at Batemans Bay and Nowra; coastal boat in the early 50’s took sleepers, timber, peas, beans and potatoes north.
    I remember the steam train from the quarry chugging along the top of the breakwater at North Head pool.
    Neil did the town proud.

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