Horses of course
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.”