Featured on our cover this month are Tanya McDermott and her Standardbred trotter Kyvalley Mac (better known as Noddy), photographed by Louise Sedgman. A long and passionate defender of Standardbred welfare, Tanya is manager of Harness Racing Victoria’s Harness Education and Re-homing Opportunities (HERO) program which, since 2015, has been creating positive pathways for Standardbreds exiting the racing environment.
I snuggled down into my sleeping bag in my swag, lying on the floor of the float, with the tail gate down so I could look out and see Dante in his yard, munching hay in the moonlight. It had been quite a journey to get here, not just the five and a half hour trip we’d made that day, but the week leading up to the day as well.
Featured on our cover this month is a beautiful photograph by Olya Tutova of Marlene Holohan and her Appaloosa mare, Moonshine Jinxy Minx. A mare who is better known as ‘The Dragon’ for her larger-than-life personality and for having “an opinion about everything”, according to her owner.
It has been nearly ten years since Kari Fulmek and Carolyn Charles first set up their equine assisted learning business, Equine Connection. “It was three years at least of crying and overspending, and really bashing our heads against brick walls,” Carolyn says. “But, you don’t really bash your head against walls unless you know: this is a goer,” interjects Jane. Both women are speaking to me from Willowwood Stables, the home of Jane Hemingway-Mohr and the base of her equestrian business in the northern suburbs of Sydney.
Honestly, I didn’t mean to. I had no intention of buying a young horse. Having come to horse ownership in middle age, I was happy with my 18 year old mare, Floss. But, when my riding buddy Helen asked me to go with her on a six hour return journey to look at a yearling she was vaguely thinking of buying, I didn’t hesitate. Helen and I had spent many hours out riding our mares, both in their late teens (unlike us) and both with some issues (possibly like us), talking about what sort of horse would appeal to us when our mares really were too old.
Dante has grown up around dogs – he’s always lived on properties with dogs and has never had any issues with them. My Labrador stands under his feet licking the trimmings off the ground as I rasp his feet. But, a little while back, as we were going down a road - me on my old girl, Floss, and Dante ponying along beside us - three dogs ran down a driveway and barked ferociously at us. They were behind a gate and no real danger, but Dante jumped out of his skin.
I recently took an opportunity to participate in a liberty training session with my young horse, Dante. We’ve done a bit of liberty work and some things we’re doing well together; he walks with me, stops and starts when I do, turns, yields and follows. But, this training session took things to a new level.
As I loaded my mare, Floss, and my young boy, Dante, into the float, I realised they had never travelled together before. Generally, I’ve chosen to float Dante with our little Welsh pony Timmy, who is a floating star. Floss has never been great in the float, although she has slowly improved over recent years, with a lot of work. Even so, I’ve always thought it better for Dante to travel in company with a better float coach, so have generally worked it so he goes with someone other than Floss.
Young Dante was in the back paddock, alert and focused. He knew something was going on in the front paddock, something that involved his big brother, but there’s no line of sight from the back to the font; the house, sheds and trees block it. Dante ran along the fence, stopped, looked, head high, ears pricked. The other horses weren’t bothered. Dante gave up worrying and went back to standing nearer the rest of the herd, but maintained some attention towards the noises - and no doubt smells - coming from the front.
Dante has a bit of a habit of wanting to jump into my arms when he gets a fright. This would be okay if he was a cat or a tiny dog, but he’s an increasingly large young horse, just tipping 15hh now. While I’ve spent a lot of time ensuring he likes being with me and wants to follow me, he needs to know that being with me doesn’t mean being on top of me.