The Truly Special Ones Define It . . .

Host: Horsemanship Linked Learning
Written by Shorna Ross

I read a quote the other day which really struck a chord with me: “A great horse will change your life. The truly special ones define it . . . ” Throughout my life I have had opportunities to work with more than one truly special one. A special horse teaches you more than any human ever will. Everything I have learned through horses has impacted the different areas of my life, not just the ones related to horsemanship and riding.

This blog is dedicated to three of those truly special ones and some of my fondest and funniest memories with these horses whilst working on stations.

This is Water Rat, an Australian Stockhorse mare.

Water Rat and I, photo credit Tricky Hockley.

Rat may not be the prettiest horse in the world, however is one of the smartest I have ever ridden. She was my main horse during my second year working on stations in the Pilbara. Rat absolutely loves working cows and taught me a lot about where to ride whilst working a mob and individual beasts. The other crew that year jokingly and sometimes enviously called her my ‘golden hooved horse’ as I loved her to bits and so did the boss.

One morning one of our crew loaded all the horses early before we headed out at dawn. When we got out to where we were mustering that day I unloaded Rat and her front hooves had in fact been painted gold. Some of my best memories with Rat include riding to the pub and back at Pannawonica when the Campdraft and Rodeo were on one year with some mates. We hit a cattle grid but luckily found an alternate route straight through the miners’ camp, they had a lit path the whole way! Rat also taught me about quicksand in the river and where to ride and not to ride (HINT if your horse really doesn’t want to go through the river take their lead and cross where the cattle cross).

An absolutely standout memory was a moonlight night brighter than daylight. Liz, my fellow worker and one of my best mates went for a midnight ride to the top of a hill in the house paddock then had a fun race down the house creek.

This is Black Lace, an Australian Stockhorse X Thoroughbred.

Black Lace, photo credit Elizabeth James.

I watched Black Lace be handled by a bloke whose horsemanship left a lot to be desired as a youngster and about two years later she was one of the very first horses I ‘broke in’ excluding ponies I’d started as a teenager. Truth be told I learned more value from her than she most likely did from me. Black Lace hammered home a few lessons which I learned the hard way. These lessons were things such as don’t do things just because someone older than you believes it is the right and only way. Definitely don’t do anything with horses unless you fully understand why the heck you’re doing it and what it means to the horse.

It is imperative that foals and young horses are handled calmly, assertively, and with feel and timing right from the START. I am very grateful to Black Lace. After working with her I started on a journey searching for a better way to start horses than the traditional old school way I was seeing offered up time and time again. Black Lace was a foundation in the beginning of my horsemanship journey. She initiated seeking a much better way to work with horses that gets what I want done with them in a way that fits both of us. It results in a partnership not a dictatorship and this is where magic happens.

This is Simba a little Australian Stockhorse mare.

Mustering on Simba, photo credit Elizabeth James.

Simba was quirky and fun. She wasn’t the fastest little horse but would work her heart out all day mustering and thrived with a job to do. If the chopper pilot called for a horse rider to come tail cattle into the mob in the morning I was always first to volunteer. When I was riding her it made for a lot smoother day if she could move her feet straight up. Simba was also quite touchy if the chopper shadow got under her feet or the chopper or plane buzzed straight over her head.

I remember mustering a paddock one day when we were short handed and the boss buzzed the tail low and fast flying right over us in his Piper Cub plane. A few seconds later his voice came over the radio “Hey Shorna, what horse are you on?” I replied “Simba” through gritted teeth and his reply was “Oh, are you still on her?”. Thankfully I was, no thanks to him! At Tom Price Camp draft I was #4 on Water Rat and #14 on Simba in the draw first up in the morning one year. I got up really early, was first on a horse warming up because at that time in the season Rat was generally more inclined to take a bit longer to get her wiggles out and settle than Simba. Any way I did my run on Rat, jumped on Simba, trotted a few circles outside the arena, she felt OK so I went in to help turn back. A cheeky heifer was cutting back across the arena so I cantered in on its shoulder to help take it out and Simba dropped her head and bucked me clean off. I landed flat on my back and the Tom Price ground is HARD! The town is known for mining Iron Ore. I was super winded and trying to catch my breath when an older campdrafting bloke made it even more difficult by saying “You know there’s easier ways to catch the boys attention than to do that!”. It hurts a lot to laugh when you’re winded. Thankfully the next day in the Ladies I redeemed my pride with Simba and I winning my first ever draft.

I could write for hours about the horses I have crossed paths with but there’s probably a book worth of stories. I will leave you with this image of a few of my mates and I having fun at Newman for the team draft one year. Some of our other costumes have included nuns, two nuns and a monk, and fluffy zoo animal onesies.

Horses + Authentic People + Working cows = An Inspired Life, photo credit Sally Webster.