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.