There’s a saying in the equestrian world that the horse always comes first. That means, amongst other things, that in the morning the horse gets breakfast before you even put the coffee on to brew; when you arrive at an outing you set up base camp in a safe place with a fresh supply of water and tether your steed before setting up your own swag; and when you get home in the dark after hours of driving and the adrenaline of competing has long evaporated, it’s the horse that gets unloaded and fed and packed away first.
This extends to inspecting the dressage arena or show jumping course to identify potential hazards or gradients or tricky lines that can make the going tougher; and to walking a cross-country course to scout out any obstacles that might surprise or spook the horse. In so doing, the rider can be prepared to sooth her horse over any lairy logs or daring ditches that may otherwise seem impossibly high or wickedly wide to navigate at full gallop.
Quite apart from the issue of animal welfare, riders put their horse first because they need their horse to believe in them. Together they form a partnership, a special bond and trust that plays out not only on the ground but more importantly when mounted, where the stakes are higher and there’s less wriggle room for getting out of sticky spots. Manoeuvring half a tonne of flight animal around obstacles at pace requires a willingness and commitment by the horse to follow the rider’s lead, come what may.
The horse for his part will do this without blinking, knowing that the rider always has his interests at heart. He learns that when the going gets tough his rider will be right there with him, offering encouragement and a kind word or a scratch on the neck when reassurance is called for.
A horse will follow the lead of its trusted and competent rider, even though it’s sheer size and might offers a clear and ever-present choice to not follow.
One might draw parallels from the power and persuasion of the horse and the confidence it draws from its rider, to the sheer size and scale of a nation and the confidence it draws from its appointed leaders.
The nation, through its population dispersed geographically and economically across country or continent, has a clear and present choice as to follow it’s political leaders, or not. Whether to believe in its leaders, or not. Whether to elect or re-elect its leaders, or not.
I believe the single greatest determinant in this choice is whether a constituent feels that they come first, or not.
Of course, coming first will mean different things to different people but there are certain factors that at an aggregated level will be universal. Factors like leaders being present, decisive, compassionate and showing they care in times of crisis.
Think Anna Bligh during the Queensland floods. Kevin Rudd in the aftermath of Black Saturday. John Howard in the devastating wake of the Bali bombings.
And then there’s Scott Morrison. As I write, bushfires are raging across five states and there have been “watch and act” and emergency levels incidents for months. Mr Morrison’s home state of New South Wales is in the throes of a megafire the likes of which the Rural Fire Service has never seen. Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia are also on tenterhooks as a mostly-voluntary army of firefighters decide hour-by-hour, day-by-day and week-by-week where to prioritise their emergency response.
Against this backdrop, Mr Morrison decided the time was right to take a family vacation to Hawaii, far away from the smoke and haze that his constituents in Sydney have been enduring for weeks. It was only the tragic deaths of two volunteer firefighters, both young men with young families and in the prime of their lives, that inspired Mr Morrison to cut short his holiday and return home a day earlier.
Upon his return, and during a press conference at the NSW Rural Fire Service headquarters in Sydney, Mr Morrison stated the obvious: “I get it that people would have been upset to know that I was holidaying with my family while their families were under great stress”.
Umm. Yes. It’s surely a reasonable expectation that our elected leader would stand with his people during a crisis of such magnitude, if not through a feeling of genuine concern or obligation then surely to at least to create an impression as such?
He then added “But I’m comforted by the fact that Australians would like me to be here, just simply so I can be here, alongside them as they’re going through this terrible time … and I apologise for that.”
My view is it’s not so much that I would like him to be here at this time; but that I can’t understand why he wouldn’t want to be here with the citizens of the country he leads, at what for many is their darkest hour.
It surely doesn’t feel like his citizens come first.