THIS ( LOCKED DOWN) LIFE STEPHANIE HICKS

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Viewpoints -

THERE they are at the gate, wait­ing for din­ner. Mo­lasses, at 25, is still boss horse de­spite his age and puts his ears flat back to show Glacier that he gets first car­rot.

Claire has de­cided to ride bare­back to­day. At least there’s room to ride in the pad­dock, so we are luck­ier than many. Al­though the land is sold and we will not have it much longer, hope­fully we’ll have it un­til the lock­down is over.

But two months of do­ing noth­ing but rid­ing in the same pad­dock is wear­ing. We know we are lucky, but it’s not the same. We have tried all sorts of things. There’s flat work, of course, which Glacier dis­likes. He likes to run and keep on run­ning, prefer­ably with lots of jumps thrown in for good mea­sure.

Then there is bare­back ( ex­cel­lent for the rider). It’s nice to see him rid­den with­out the sad­dle; you can see what a lovely, solid boy he is. Still, he’s not as fit as he was.

Some­times we play mother- horse polocrosse. The rules vary. Some­times Claire has to catch the ball when I throw it or bounce it. Some­times I run with the ball and they have to try to get it off me. And some­times Claire just prac­tises throw­ing it through a goal made up of a cou­ple of bits of con­crete.

When the whole horse flu thing started, I set up a mini cross- coun­try course for them in the pad­dock with what­ever was ly­ing around, but the grass is so over­grown it’s hard to see where the jumps are, and so they have given that up.

To­day, quite a short ride, as it’s bare­back. We play for 40 min­utes or so un­til I have done enough run­ning around af­ter balls, then we take both horses up for din­ner.

The next ride will be the same, and the one af­ter that. No one can train th­ese days, no one can go down to pony club, no one can go for a ride with their friends, there are no lessons, no musters, no com­pe­ti­tions, no com­bined train­ing, no hunter tri­als, no dres­sage tests. And not just our club, but ev­ery one for kilo­me­tres around.

All be­cause a race­horse brought horse flu into Aus­tralia. The gov­ern­ment had no idea what it was up against when it started. The con­tain­ment was nowhere near fast or strict enough. Al­though it has slowed now, for a while the num­ber of in­fected prop­er­ties in­creased at a rate of more than 100 a week in south­east Queens­land alone.

So the long mis­ery con­tin­ues. Peo­ple who don’t have horses ask me why we are in lock­down. Does it kill the horses, they ask. It’s flu, we say. They get sick, but they get bet­ter. It may kill foals or old horses but ba­si­cally it doesn’t kill the oth­ers.

The lock­down is crazy, they say. It surely is. Thou­sands of horses and their young rid­ers are suf­fer­ing be­cause of it. Thou­sands of coaches, far­ri­ers, vets, horse- shop own­ers, sad­dlers and all the other folk who live with and around horses are suf­fer­ing. In the pa­pers and on television, there is noth­ing about all of this, but each new in­fected prop­erty sim­ply de­lays the day when life for horse own­ers can re­turn to nor­mal.

Glacier and Mo­lasses have their din­ner now and seem happy, but Glace of­ten looks at us as if to say, Why aren’t we go­ing any­where? It’s so bor­ing in here!’’ It is, mate, it is. For you and for thou­sands of other horses.

this­life@ theaus­tralian. com. au

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