The Danish pianist on the joys of riding a sensible horse – and the time his not-so-sensible racehorse filly Alley Cat jumped the cash register at the track with her jockey on top.
TEXT Anne Ulrikke Bak PHOTOGRAPHY courtesy of Bent Fabricius-Bjerre
He is a pianist and composer who has written pretty much every iconic theme from Danish television, theatre and film, from the seminal Matador series to contemporary black comedy cinema. His 1962 hit instrumental song “Alley Cat” won him international acclaim and a US Grammy. To further feed the hype, the media came up with a story about how he composed the song for his beloved cat. That was indeed a truth with modifications but it lead to a string of interviews about his pet and he was even hired to open a big cat show in New York.
But he was never that much into kittens, always more of a horseman, and who can blame him? He has been a passionate rider for years and still is. In Denmark we know him as Bent Fabricius-Bjerre, in the US his name is Bent Fabric. To The Horse Rider’s Journal he is Bent Fab, and when we meet up at his office on the fourth floor of a charming half-timbered house in Nyhavn, Copenhagen, for a chat about all things horsey, he is sitting at his desk, wearing a blue sweater that matches the impressive Henry Heerup painting behind him.
How did you get into riding?
I started riding when I moved to Klampenborg north of Copenhagen. There was a pony club nearby, owned by a lady called Baroness Lerche. I had four kids and they all rode at her stables. She had a lot of ponies, and two Fjord horses. One day she asked me if I wanted to come for a ride and from that day I started riding with my kids occasionally. At the time, I was composing film music for the Danish director Erik Balling. He went to Iceland to make a film, and upon his return to Denmark he was offered an Icelandic horse as a parting gift. He had no idea what to do with it, and asked me: ‘Would you like an Icelandic horse?’ It was during the late fifties or maybe early sixties, before Icelandic horses became a common thing in Denmark. I kept him at Baroness Lerche’s livery with all the ponies, just by Klampenborg Racecourse.
What was he like?
He was called Kiauwni, which means “little fool”. He definitely wasn’t a fool, but on the contrary incredibly sweet with bangs like The Beatles. Cut totally straight. Icelandic horses are very special. They’re so brawny, even more than bigger horses. They can get really old, thirty-five isn’t unusual. They can walk thousand of miles, and gallop downhill without trembling. And they’re so friendly, I almost feel like they have more personality than bigger horses. I rode Kiauwni for two or three years and I got a taste for it. Then there was a friend of mine, the mayor of Lyngby, who had Arabian horses. It was about time for me to have a bigger horse so I got one of his. A mare with so much personality, very elegant and charming, always dancing around. In recent years I’ve been riding a horse called Rainbow. She is skewbald-coloured like an Indian horse. Unbelievably sensible. That’s a good thing, having a horse you can trust. They usually hit the gallop when eyeing the Hermitage Castle [the royal hunting lodge at the end of a big stretch of hill in the Deer Park outside of Copenhagen], right?
What sort of riding do you do now?
I ride twice a week with my youngest son. We ride for about an hour, one and a half if the weather is good. I used to ride every day, but lately, I’ve slowed down a bit. It’s a question of time. Back in the day the horses were all groomed and tacked up [for you] but now you just have to get on with it. We trot and then gallop on a good stretch. Though it all depends on the seasons and the weather conditions. At certain times of the year you’re not allowed to go off the bridle paths due to the next generation of animals. There are always certain parts of the forest suitable for a good gallop and that’s usually on the way back, right? It’s like the horses can smell when you’re heading home.
Looking back, are there any horsey moments that stand out to you?
As part of the promotion for [my production company] Metronome, we also had a racing stable called Metronome Stable. I was the owner of a thoroughbred called Alley Cat, like my melody. Alley Cat had the thousand-meter track record at Klampenborg Racecourse. She was like a whirlwind. Unfortunately, she was a bit crazy too. One day, when blazing across the finish line, she just continued. She jumped the fence to the audience, jumped the cash register at the entrance with the jockey on top. She ran across a big road and further on to the next road before jumping a two-meter fence into a garden and then the jockey fell off. Alley Cat died on the course a few years later, only seven or eight years old. She was an incredible horse, but wild.
Have you done any riding while you’ve been travelling?
I’ve often ridden in Mallorca where we own property. Earlier we had really good bridleways in the mountains, but a lot of land has now been sold. I’ve ridden a lot when travelling around the world. Usually when there’s a beach there’s horses too, and then I’ll go for a ride. Last time was in Dubai. We rode out in the desert. There are a lot of horses in Dubai. Owning horses is very prestigious for the sheiks. There are many desert races and camel races, too. Our ride was more quiet though. But I have actually ridden in a race once. Klampenborg Racecourse held a race for amateurs. I was all dressed up wearing our colours, which were blue and brown. I didn’t ride Alley Cat but another racehorse from our stable. Races were harsh at that time. The jockeys and the coaches were gambling. You know, they did tip-offs and dirty deals. There was this thing where they used to push each other out of the saddle. You wouldn’t notice because there were no TV transmissions. And they hit the track in a mess of dust and galloping thoroughbred legs. It happened mostly in the last turn when riding too close. Luckily it didn’t happen to me, but I didn’t win the race either. I’ve only fallen off once or twice. One time I broke my hand, which is a bit unfortunate when you’re a pianist. But besides that, I only have good memories of my horses.
And now for the Notting Hill question: Would you consider composing a melody for a horse?
I’ve already composed a melody for a horse! It’s called “Sandy Roads”. It was during the time when I was hosting the television show “Around the Piano”. We had a horse in the studio – I’m not even sure what it was doing there. It just walked around while I was playing its song. Come to think of it, it was actually a bit overwhelming, having a horse in the studio. They appear quite big when they’re indoors.
What makes riding special to you?
Having the Deer Park nearby is a blessing. The animals in the forest are used to us, they don’t flee when we’re close to them. In that sense, you almost become one with nature when riding. It isn’t like that if you’re going for a walk. Personally, I’m not into eventing or dressage. The thing that means something to me is to be out in nature with the horse. You cultivate a rare relationship with a horse when you know it well. Some days it is hard to get up in the morning. It’s dark outside, the barn is cold, it’s dark when riding out. But then somehow you come home feeling uplifted. I can’t explain why. But when you get back and untack your horse, it’s always been a good ride.