Host: Kalyeeda Station
Written by Barb Camp.
Horse riding is very skilled and can be dangerous, but most people who come to work on a station want to have a go. From the experienced head-stockman with 40 years of colt-starting under his belt to the nervous cook who has never left trot before but wants to experience a day in the saddle – we need a range of different mounts to cater for a range of different riders. That means hopefully anyone out on horseback should not only be able to contribute to the team’s activities, but also be safe.
Kalyeeda has about 30 working horses – and by that I mean horses that are physically healthy, experienced and settled in to the job of working cattle. Just like a workforce of 30 humans within that group there are a range of personalities, abilities, strengths and weaknesses. There are fast horses, slow horses, lazy horses and spooky horses. We have nippy little ponies and ground-shaking heavy-footed clumpers. There are blue-blooded Quarter horses from New South Wales and local brumbies that were mustered in off the river. Bays and greys, roans and chestnuts. Tall and small, graceful and … less graceful.
We need a range of horses for our different riders!
All of them their own personalities and quirks, but there’s a few general types that will crop up time and time again…
Trigger AKA Old Reliable
He’s as old as the hills, but in these hills his name is legendary. In his time he’s probably won the Cloncurry Stockman’s Challenge and he’s been used as a pick up horse for every rodeo this side of the ranges. He may be the size of your average brick shithouse but he’s the one you throw the eight year old daughter of a visiting friend on because you know the worst he will do for all their enthusiastic but weak-limbed kicking is break into a steady jog. Equally, you can stick a decent rider on him and he still remembers all the tricks.
STRENGTHS: He’s the ideal ‘starter’ horse to gauge how able a new ringer is because he will do exactly how much you ask and no more.
WEAKNESSES: Unfortunately his advancing years mean he can’t cope as well with those long, strenuous days and demanding young blokes wanting to gallop everywhere.
Colossus AKA the weight bearer
Built for power – He’s the Arnie of the horse plant!
The ground vibrates as this one gets run in for a muster! Standing next to this horse you may feel slightly dwarfed but sitting on his back you will feel nothing short of god-like.
STRENGTHS: Ideally designed to carry all 120kgs of moustachioed and bespurred ringer complete with 40kgs of roping saddle and assorted saddle-bags. There’s not a bullock he can’t pull down if his rider’s handy enough with a rope!
WEAKNESSES: With feet the size of dinner plates and front legs you could drive a freight train between there is no way Colossus is built for speed. Equally, your average Collosus is not known for sensitivity – with a neck as thick as the whole of the average rider’s body he can be difficult to stop and turn when he gets to full steam ahead. A smaller rider might find themselves as effective as a pea on a drum when Collosus decides he wants to head for home!
Misty AKA the Doe-Banger
Generic horse. Generic name. Usually there is nothing particularly wrong with the Misty’s of the world. There is just nothing particularly right about them either. They can do all the basics – they will walk, trot, canter and halt and even turn a bit of a circle. If you ask them properly. And repeatedly. In a loud and authoritative manner.
STRENGTHS: 9 times out of 10 the rider starting the day on Misty’s back will finish the day on Misty’s back. Misty will not get fed up and dump her rider after being accidentally jabbed in the mouth for the 20th time. Misty will not lose her cool and bolt because the enthusiastic but unco-ordinated ringer has tangled their brand new stock whip up under her tail. If things are going really well they may even contribute to the overall mustering effort in more than just spirit.
WEAKNESSES: There will be no flashes of brilliance as they lap a beast around with ears pinned back and banner-tail flying. There will be no cat-like chopping back and forth as you try to block a determined mama cow from breaking from the mob. Misty can be the cause of much swearing as she heaves around just a little too slowly to be of much help yarding up a reluctant mob. A frustrating mount for a more experienced rider and especially the less-experienced rider who feels they are ready to progress onto something more exciting…
Star AKA the one with ‘promise’
Star is Stunning – yes – that was deliberate capitalisation of the s. As she runs in with the other horses your eye cannot help but be drawn to her – she’s like a movie star. Look how well she floats over the ground! Look at the lovely way she arches her neck! Still only young and with impeccable breeding (and probably a price-tag to match) – she is the one every rider imagines themselves sitting on in perfect balance travelling over the rough country to turn the mob in epic style- the one you’re going to clean up with at the next rodeo!
STRENGTHS: she’s gorgeous. She’s well bred. She can turn on a dime. She’s as fast as the wind… What a horse! If you could keep her mind in the game you’d be winning every barrel race and campdraft in the area!
WEAKNESSES: She’s also got a list of mental health problems that make her the most hideously unreliable partner. At best your partnership is destined to be more of a hindrance than a help on a muster as you spend most of your time trying to sort out the communication issues between you and her. At worst one or both of you ends up injured do to all that promising athleticism being put to fairly negative uses. She would be awesome if only she would do what you wanted! Unfortunately she is too busy getting frightened and distracted by a nearby tree. Or perhaps she was upset and offended by the way her rider used his leg and rein at the same time so instead of chopping around she will rear up and then get a fright about that as well. Like every fisherman always has ‘the one that got away’ horse riders always have the one with ‘promise’ that they can just never tap into.
Button AKA The kids pony
You want me to ride what now!? Where are the rollerskates?
The real Buttons is (marginally) taller than the previous pony … !
Standing at all of 13 hands (or a height convenient for you to swing astride without even having to put your foot in the stirrup), the day you are assigned to ride Button you cannot help but give your head-stockman an incredulous look. This is the pony the manager’s little son was doing lead-rein classes at the rodeo on, right?
STRENGTHS: Button might be small but he’s made of attitude! Like a Jack Russell Terrier nobody told him he was shorter than the average weaner. He’s speedy and nimble – he can turn on a dime and has more heart than the average lion. Also conveniently sized for getting on, opening gates and performing cool tricks like picking your hat off the ground without leaving the saddle
WEAKNESSES: To keep up with everyone else at walk you have to be constantly trotting, your saddle is so big on him that you had to take off the flank girth because it just turned into a bucking strap. You keep on accidentally bashing him in the knees with your feet and the little monster had a fairly good attempt at bucking you off in front of everyone – and nearly succeeded – there’s a reason your boss has asked you to ride him rather than his precious kid!
Purple Haze AKA The ex-racehorse
They started their career as a promising yearling sold for a reportedly dizzyingly large sum of money. Dreams of the Melbourne Cup unfortunately never came to fruition. After failing on the city circuits they ended up at the country tracks. 4 last place finishes after 5 starts ended their career. Out of a job, Purple Haze found himself going bush to try his hand at being a mustering horse.
Now if only I could stop or turn…
STRENGTHS: bred for centuries for speed, power and athletic ability, usually there is a lot of promise in an ex-racehorse. When one is fit for a job they can be top-class in their um… field (sorry – couldn’t resist) of expertise.
WEAKNESSES: In their previous careers they were trained to go very fast in a straight line. Your average horse straight off the tracks has that a default setting. It can take a lot of time and training to re-educate them to the art of turning and stopping and unfortunately most ex-racehorses are not given that chance. Consequently you are probably going to be riding something you can’t turn with a crowbar or stop with a hatchet. Also of concern – after going from years of being pampered, grain fed stabled royalty to living in a dry spinifex paddock, the previously sleekly muscled Purple Haze is likely to more closely resemble a toast-rack than Black Caviar – as his carer you will spend more time worrying about his condition than actually riding him.
Hellbitch AKA The buckjumper
Have you really pissed off your head stockman recently? Perhaps you complained about riding Misty one too many times. Have you been talking up how well you’re going to do in the saddle-bronc at the next rodeo. A situation where a young ringer reckons their riding prowess is greater than the mounts they have been given often merits a ride on Hellbitch. She may be a fairly handy stock horse – but first you have to hang on tight cause you’ve got to prove your worth to sit astride her back. She can buck, she can twist and she will do her damndest to see you in the dirt if she feels your ability is not up to the size of your ego.
So you think you can ride, eh?
STRENGTHS: An excellent teacher in her own right, Hellbitch will be quick to educate you what is and is not appropriate use of bit and spur. Is your balance slightly off or your mounting a little sloppy? She will allow you to contemplate how to improve your technique from your vantage point of the dirt. However, if you prove worthy of keeping your seat astride her broad back you often find you have a wonderful ally – not to mention great bragging rights with the rest of the stock camp.
WEAKNESSES: Sometimes as great as the temptation is to use Hellbitch to help prick an overinflated ego, she can be a walking workers-comp claim. Is the risk of her prospective jockey injuring themselves worth the temptation to utilise her in the stock camp?
Cuddles AKA The ex-poddy
She thinks she’s a dog or possibly a calf. Cuddles was an orphan foal that was hand-reared around the homestead. Consequently she has been used to humans crawling around on her back since she was a foal and thinks we are only good for feeding and entertaining her. When she was started under saddle she was just amazed that no one told her before that she could carry her friends around on her back all day long.
Cuddles is definitely quiet!
STRENGTHS: Utterly bombproof, Cuddles will be frightened by nothing. Affectionate and interactive, she wants to be your friend, eat sandwiches with you at lunchtime and generally act cute. Always easy to catch.
WEAKNESSES: What is her greatest strength is also her greatest weakness. Like your little five year old cousin that just wants to play all the time, Cuddles can be so ANNOYING. She has no respect for authority and usually just does what she wants in a very non-malicious way. This can be very irritating when what she wants to do and what you need to do are two different things.
Aspen AKA the young horse
Once you’ve proved your worth in mastering the skills to ride the plethora of older, more established horse types in the stock camp you might be given the dubious honour of initiating a young, uneducated equine into the folds of the horse plant. Aspen may be totally untrained to the extent that he has never even had his feet picked up, or perhaps he has been started under saddle by an experienced professional and is ready to progress from school to college as it were. Either way, it is up to you to teach Aspen how the job is done and set him up for what is hopefully a long and useful career in the stock camp.
STRENGTHS: Aspen is essentially a blank canvas. If you’re good enough you should be able to get him going exactly how you like and, like a proud parent, turn him into a well functioning member of society who loves his job and is pretty damn good at it.
WEAKNESSES: Aspen’s not quite sure what he’s doing yet. It might take him a bit longer to organise his legs or for his brain to process what you’re asking him to do. This can be a bit frustrating for the rider when a simple task like opening a gate takes five minutes rather than 30 seconds. As Aspen as not yet seen much of the word he tends to resort back to a horse’s natural state of being which is loosely defined as ‘being terrified of everything’ so you have to be sensitive to the fact that Aspen truly believes there is a monster behind the ant bed. Are you patient and skilled enough that you can help Aspen grow up? Or will you just frighten him more when you accidentally jab him in the mouth when he moves unexpectedly?
Harley AKA the steel horse (motorbike)
This post wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention the wildcard – Harley doesn’t have four legs but two wheels instead. Though it’s lacking a flesh-and-blood heart some may argue the motorbike has just as much a place in the plant as any horse – and argue they do. The rivalry between horse and motorbike riders is and epic, bitter feud in which both parties claim to be more useful than the other.
Note how Harley and his jockey has to be protected from the angry cow by our resident Trigger.
STRENGTHS: Bikes don’t get tired. They go faster and they do what they’re told at all times. They don’t need run in from the paddock and they don’t need fed, shod and coddled like horses do.
WEAKNESSES: Bikes don’t think for themselves so cannot compensate for a useless rider. They still need fed (what happens if you forget to fuel them up!?) and they break down and get flat tyres just as frequently as horses go lame and lose shoes. They stir up cattle more than a horse. They may be faster but they cannot reverse or chop around as quickly as a horse. They have no personalities.
NOTE: To protect the innocent I’ve not used any of the real names of Kalyeeda’s stock horses. If you come out to visit us or start as a new ringer next year you’re welcome to try to work out who’s who- but the names aren’t really the point. I can guarantee there are representatives of these stereotypes in every horse plant on every station in Australia. They can make you laugh. They can make you swear a blue streak and they can make you look pretty awesome if you work out how to ride all the different types. The important thing to remember is that complaining about a ‘Misty’ type being useless will not make her any better – learning to do something different in your riding might though. Unlike the steely Harleys horses all have personalities and it’s up to a decent rider to work out what makes their mount tick and then learn how to tap into that. That’s what makes the difference between someone who can sit on a horse and someone who can ride.