Horses of course

Tasmanian Country - - NEWS - KAROLIN MacGRE­GOR

FOR Robyn Whishaw, run­ning Tas­ma­nia's largest thor­ough­bred stud is a labour of love.

It is peak breed­ing sea­son at Ar­mi­dale Stud, which is on a 445ha prop­erty at Car­rick in the North.

Young foals are ev­ery­where and there are dozens of mares wait­ing to be served by the stud’s three stal­lions.

The rac­ing in­dus­try can be a tough game, how­ever, Mrs Whishaw said it was the love of the horses that kept her com­ing back for more.

“There are some tremen­dous highs, but equally there can be some real lows,” she said.

“You get very at­tached to the an­i­mals. We have 100 foals here ev­ery year and I know ev­ery one of them and their moth­ers, and the year­lings. Peo­ple say to me how do you do it and I say it’s just like an ex­tended fam­ily.”

While she grew up on a sheep prop­erty at Oat­lands, her mother was an eques­trian, so her in­volve­ment with horses started at a young age.

The fam­ily even­tu­ally bought a thor­ough­bred stal­lion called Mack Blue and Mrs Whishaw pre­pared her first year­ling at 14.

It was her in­volve­ment with thor­ough­bred breed­ing that led her to meet her hus­band, Den­nis Whishaw.

“I’d been in the thor­ough­bred in­dus­try for about 10 years be­fore I mar­ried Den­nis,” she said.

“It was a good fit be­cause re­al­is­ti­cally your mar­riage wouldn’t last if you weren’t horsey, I don’t think.”

Mr Whishaw’s fa­ther, David, es­tab­lished Ar­mi­dale in the mid1960s af­ter be­ing given a brood­mare as a birth­day present.

“He was in­ter­ested in breed­ing and had done a lot of read­ing and he saw that there was a need for a pro­fes­sional stud,” Mrs Whishaw said.

“He got very keen and started im­port­ing stal­lions. Den­nis’s dad was al­ways pro­gres­sive and quite left of field, he wasn’t afraid to try some­thing new.”

From there the in­dus­try took off, grow­ing from an an­nual year­ling sale of about 20 horses to about 200.

The an­nual Tas­ma­nian Magic Mil­lions sale sees about 120 horses go un­der the ham­mer.

Af­ter be­ing mar­ried for al­most 21 years, work­ing to­gether and rais­ing their three chil­dren, Mr Whishaw died in 2004.

“He was the driver of the busi­ness, but for­tu­nately, be­cause I was a farm­ing girl and I loved horses, we’d al­ways worked to­gether, be­cause oth­er­wise it would have just col­lapsed,” she said.

“There were lots of things I could pick up with­out too much dif­fi­culty, but there were other things I re­ally strug­gled with. I was lucky I had won­der­ful fam­ily and friends, and peo­ple were so sup­port­ive, but it was re­ally tough.”

While tak­ing on sole re­spon­si­bil­ity

for her fam­ily and the busi­ness was daunt­ing, Mrs Whishaw said it was also ben­e­fi­cial.

“I sup­pose I was for­tu­nate in that I had the farm and the fam­ily and the stud, which kept me go­ing and gave me a pur­pose to get out of bed in the morn­ing,” she said.

Now 13 years on the stud is go­ing from strength to strength.

Mrs Whishaw’s son David and his wife, Rhi­an­non, are heav­ily in­volved.

“It’s great be­cause I see they’re very much like we were, they’re both pas­sion­ate and they sup­port each other,” Mrs Whishaw said.

Her other son, Wil­liam, who is an agron­o­mist, lives on the farm as well and her daugh­ter, Camilla, is work­ing as an equine natur­opath.

“We had no ex­pec­ta­tions that the kids would be in­ter­ested in farm­ing or be horsey . . . I don’t ever want to put any pres­sure on them be­cause it is hard work and it does put pres­sure on you,” Mrs Whishaw said.

“But if they want to do it I’ll give them 100 per cent sup­port and if they want to walk away from it I’ll equally give them 100 per cent sup­port.”

The farm is run­ning about 160 mares and foals, along with about 160 dry mares, 70 year­lings and about 40 spell­ing race­horses.

It is labour in­ten­sive and phys­i­cally hard work, but she says it is the horses that keep her mo­ti­vated.

“You do get very at­tached to them, we love them, they are an amaz­ing an­i­mal,” Mrs Whishaw said.

“I’ve got the ut­most re­spect for them, they’re in­cred­i­bly brave and just beau­ti­ful an­i­mals.”

While there can be dis­ap­point­ments, she said there were also horses like Winx and lo­cal hero The Cleaner who can give peo­ple so much en­joy­ment.

“What a won­der­ful ad­ver­tise­ment The Cleaner was for Tassie, not only for rac­ing but for tourism,” she said.

“Not only can they put you on the map, but they bind peo­ple to­gether.”

En­cour­ag­ing young peo­ple who want to be in­volved with in­dus­try is some­thing Mrs Whishaw is also pas­sion­ate about.

Each year to stud reg­u­larly takes on young peo­ple for work ex­pe­ri­ence and host ve­teri­nary stu­dents.

The Tas­ma­nian rac­ing in­dus­try has been fac­ing some chal­lenges in re­cent years.

To help tackle them, she played a key role in es­tab­lish­ing the Thor­ough­bred Ad­vi­sory Net­work, the first or­gan­i­sa­tion of its kind in the coun­try.

Through this body, all sec­tors of the rac­ing in­dus­try have united.

“It’s the first time in Aus­tralia that the whole in­dus­try is speak­ing with one voice, so that’s been re­ally pos­i­tive,” Mrs Whishaw said.

“From an in­dus­try point of view I’m con­cerned, though. We need gov­ern­ments that un­der­stand bet­ter the con­tri­bu­tion that the in­dus­try makes to the econ­omy and pri­mary in­dus­try. We prob­a­bly need to ed­u­cate the pub­lic bet­ter and that’s some­thing we haven’t been great at.”

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