Wild Horses

For a horse lover, it is the stuff of legends, bush ballads and rangers of yore – taking wild horses from the Australian bush and making lifelong friends with them.  Call me a mountain dreamer, but it’s always been on my to do list. I found out about the wild brumbies of the Australian Bush many years ago, and the plight they face as their numbers expand and various State and Federal Governments dream up ever more evil ways to get rid of them (aerial shooting).  These are the iconic horses of Banjo Patterson, Ned Kelly and the original aboriginal horsemen (and women).

Small, compact, strong, hardy, kind, gentle and sure footed, they have turned their hooves to everything from cattle mustering, polo, transport and more and have stood shoulder to shoulder with Australians as they settled and dominated their landscape.

Never a fan of a big horse (too far to fall!) as I started seriously looking for a horsey heart to love in some vain desire to fill the hole left by the irreplaceable Baby, it was clear that we would have to go and look at some brumbies and see if we liked the reality as much as the idea and ideal.

On a bitterly cold May day we took the Dorrigo road out of Guyra to the Guy Fawkes Heritage Horse Association holding property and waited for Erica and Digby to turn up in their ancient Toyota.  I spent the time picking the paper like everlasting daisies – like little golden suns.  There was a beautiful Palomino stallion in the yards and Ged and I talkedto him through the rails as we waited for Digby and Erica to calmly and quietly herd the horses into the yards for us to look at.  So many horses! So hard not to fall in love!  I immediately fell for a pretty bay mare but she was sold, next I set my heart on a stunning buckskin mare and we spent a long time looking at her but finally noticed that her hocks were blown up like footballs.  Something wrong there so Erica said she would turn her out and wouldn’t sell her until she was well.  Meanwhile Ged and the stallion were deep in eyeballing conversation.  There was an undeniable connection between the two alpha males.

Erica suggested another buckskin mare with foal at foot that we might like ‘out the back’ so we set off in the jalopy with some hay, calling ‘c’mon’ and watching horses emerge from the scrub.  A few times we got out and got close to horses but we couldn’t find the buckskin!  At one clearing I got out of the car and turned around to be met by the curious stare of a horse who was the reincarnation of my beautiful ‘Baby’.  Hot tears streamed down my cheeks in the cold wind and I turned to Ged ‘doesn’t she look just like Baby?’  I couldn’t hear him, but he took one look at my face and told Erica we would definitely be having that little bay filly.  Still no sign of the bucky and we had to go as we had left Ben with a friend.

We had also agreed to take a 25 year old wild and pregnant mare who we felt sorry for.  The horses are trapped with hay in a series of yards in The Guy Fawkes National Park, and then trucked to this holding property where they were branded, wormed and sold out into the wider community as projects, pets, and horses of all disciplines – never for meat.

I paid for ‘Second Chance’ as I called her and had a sleepless nights over the old wild mare.  Finally Erica called me and said the sale of the stallion had fallen through – did we want him?  I hesitated for a moment and then said ‘It’s Ged’s birthday in a couple of weeks, that can be his surprise present’ and I explained my reticence about the old girl.  Erica understood and agreed to keep her through her dotage.  So the truck was booked, the Stallion paid for and the new steel yards to hold them, ordered.

These cheap horses were starting to cost a fortune!  Oh well, we desperately needed new yards, anyway.  As ever, at Avalon, we need a deadline to move heaven and earth to get things done!

It was so exciting having this huge secret to keep from Ged.  A couple of times I thought I had blown it, as I am the world’s worst poker player, and everyone around us knew of the surprise.

The week before I rang Erica and asked about the Buckskin mare – after all, if we were paying for a truck, we might as well fill it up!  She checked her out and said the hocks had gone down a lot, but still a bit swollen so we could have her at half price (pregnant to boot!)  I can never walk past a bargain so the deal was done!

Then we just had to wait for the yards which came early one morning and were erected incredibly quickly by the manufacturer (a nice man from Tamworth) together with our friend Ian (who is fixing the road with his excavator) and the lovely Jean Philippe (our French wwoofer from last year returned to his Aussie home from home for a month of hard labour!)

All was ready for the arrivals and two days later they weathered the winding road down the Great Dividing Range and leapt out of the truck into the new yards littered with piles of hay.  They were calm from the outset.

The following morning Ged, Ben and I walked down the paddock together to inspect the new arrivals as Ged & Ben had come home after dark the night before.  It was such a thrill to see the look on Ged’s face when he saw the stallion and to be able to say ‘Happy Birthday, Darling’.  What a fantastic surprise and wonderful gift.

Day by day the ‘bubble’ of space they have needed to keep them separate from us has got smaller and smaller.  Even the stallion is able to be just a metre away from whoever is feeding them.  Food is a wonderful ice-breaker!

We are gradually giving them more and more farm to explore and graze.  I spent some good ‘join-up’ time with Second Chance in the round yard yesterday.  The buckskin is called ‘Beauty’ and the Stallion is ‘Sandy’.  Watch this space for developments as they journey from wild and unhandled to friends and companions for life, and our hearts are healed and horsemanship expanded along the way.

Posted in Animals | Tagged , , , | 11 Comments

11 Responses to Wild Horses

  1. Leigh Newton says:


    Thanks so much for your article above on the sexual abuse of young girls. The more this stays in the media the better society’s understanding will be.
    Thanks again.


  2. nature_lover says:

    Yes, thanks for your efforts to look after the welfare and wellbeing of our children – most admirable.

    But I must take exception to one element of your article.
    You write about feral horses:
    “the plight they face as their numbers expand and various State and Federal Governments dream up ever more evil ways to get rid of them (aerial shooting).”

    Do you know about the myriad native species that inhabit many of the areas invaded by these feral horses? Incredible iconic and endangered native species such as the Brush-tailed Rock Wallaby, Corroboree Frog and the New England Tree Frog (otherwise known as the Glandular Frog)… Feral horses destroy the habitat of each of these threatened species and further endanger them – that is, feral horses contribute significantly to the ongoing decline of these species and push them closer to extinction.

    Aerial culling of horses in conservation areas (using professional shooters) is the most efficient and humane approach – mustering them is simply not able to solve the problem.

    By all means love your horses – in paddocks and away from areas of native vegetation. But please do not suggest that removing horses from National Parks is in any way “evil”. What is evil is folk who seek to protect horses in conservation areas, thus endangering the rich and irreplaceable nature heritage of our ancient and sensitive continent.

    The health of the headwaters of the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers is being significantly compromised by feral horses. We all rely on the health and the flow of these rivers to provide us with food. Culling of horses is desperately needed to protect these vital headwaters (and the Corroboree Frogs that only live here)…

    Please consider these factors before suggesting that control of horses (a species present on all inhabited continents) to protect the health of rivers and the native species that are only known from these miniscule parts of Australia is somehow “evil”.


    • sophie says:

      I’m only saying that aerial shooting is evil. Because it is so hard to get a clean kill from a helicopter and too often horses are left injured to die slow and painful deaths. It is possible to cull all ferals humanely and with minimum of harm. Indeed, it is our responsibility as custodians of the landscape to do so, which is why I celebrate those who take horses from the wilds and train them for pleasure or work.

  3. Jacob says:

    I thought the Rolf article on ABC was a bit unbalanced. I liked your blog about the while horses, though.

  4. aleanbh says:

    Hi Sophie
    It was too late for me to comment on your article about removal of Rolf Harris art. I am struggling with this as my young children blithely dance around to and know all the words of my tape (from when I was their age), “There’s a party on with Rolf Harris” which includes at least one creepy track (“Have a Madeira, my dear”). My kids are innocent and find his various versions of “How much is that doggy in the window” hilarious.

    I also let them play the M Jackson album “Thriller” and they love dancing to it.

    Like many kids, they love Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. As an adult I am aware of the creepy relationship L Carroll had with the real-life Alice (eventually asking her parents for her hand in marriage when she was 11) – see this article for more

    Will I throw away the Alice books, the Michael Jackson CD or the Rolf Harris tape? No I will not.

    As a Child, I consumed “the Black and White Minstrel show” on TV and many other racist thigns besides. My parents took me to Seaworld in California where I was entertained by captive orcas, intelligent huge mammals living lives of torture. These things are now abbhorent to me, but I was innocent of their evil when I was a child. No adult destroyed my innocence. I was one of the millions of lucky ones.

    I liken the removal of Harris’ art to the construction of public monuments and memorials to commemorate the conflict between Aboriginal Australians and immigrant settlers. It is healing, for those whose innocence is lost forever.

    • sophie says:

      Thank you for your comments and information about Lewis Carroll. Now I know why I don’t like the Alice books and have always found them weird and deeply disturbing! As you say, we were all raised with very different attitudes (which some of our parents still hold!) but it does seem as if the lid is being lifted on the sexual abuse of children and young adults and that society as a whole is saying this is not a joke, or ‘fair game’ but sexual assault which shatters self esteem and lives. In my day, we called it ‘WHT – wandering hand trouble’ and we all warned each other about the men with those predilections. It was a different time but the crime is the same, just we call it now for what it is

  5. Anne-Louise Kerr says:

    Very insightful piece on the removal of art by Rolf Harris. Somehow allowing the work of pedophiles to remain does seem like a form of grooming: perhaps my naive view of some of his work is dangerous – the quirky, jolly, apparently innocent Rolf-headed kangaroo might encourage trust and recognition in his victims. ( Somewhat narcissistic on the part of the artist too -a component part of the pedophile’s psyche). Reminds me of the work of William Mayne (a famous pedophile author) – his many award-winning books seemed OK at the time….. But reading as an informed adult I see these books have a creepy, subliminal message to young female readers that suggests a distance between themselves and authority figures is normal and to be encouraged. Readers of William Mayne’s work are encouraged to separate from their parents and keep secrets from their parents – a classic tactic of pedophiles. Jake the Peg with his “third leg” and raincoat seemed only mildly unsavoury to my parents when it came out and somehow, inexplicably funny to me as an innocent child. With the clarity of hindsight I now realise that it would be a thoroughly unsuitable video to allow my little girls to watch but before his conviction I might have let them see it. And if they had ever then met Rolf they would have viewed him and his rain mac and fabric -concealed limbs as an appropriate and innocent joke. Thus we would have been groomed. Thanks for your writing, Sophie. I thought your angle was excellent and enjoyed your work and wanted to thank you.

  6. Lois says:

    While I agree with your article about the shaming of Rolf Harris, I disagree that his work should be taken off walls and hidden.
    A public sign, telling the shameful story of his pedophilia, should be placed on his works so that it keeps the conversation about sexual abuse open.

    We need to educate our men to respect their fellow human beings. And unfortunately we need to educate our young people not to be too trusting, and to talk about situations where they don’t feel comfortable.

    We need to talk about these things – not put them back in the closet.

  7. sophie says:

    I agree that we need to educate ourselves – families, adults, schools etc. And the last thing we should be doing is putting these discussions back in the closet. Perhaps you are right that while his work is on display, the conversation is alive. As a survivor I feel that to see his art on public display is offensive. Survivors need to try and heal and move on, not be reminded of paedophilia at every turn

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