WILD BEAU­TIES

HOW A VIC­TO­RIAN FAM­ILY ARE HELP­ING RES­CUE AUS­TRALIA’S BRUMBIES.

Country Style - - CONTRIBUTORS - WORDS VIR­GINIA IMHOFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHY MARNIE HAWSON

Dave and Colleen O’brien, founders of the Vic­to­rian Brumby As­so­ci­a­tion, are do­ing their part to res­cue and re­home Aus­tralia’s beau­ti­ful brumbies.

THE LATE WIN­TER sun fil­ters through the trees cast­ing long shad­ows across the pas­tures where horses are graz­ing in a se­cluded val­ley at Glen­lo­gie, 190 kilo­me­tres north-west of Mel­bourne. The pad­docks run up onto a plateau and to the bound­ary fence above the val­ley, and from here a thick wall of for­est starts climb­ing the dark slopes of the om­nipresent back­drop, Mount Cole’s loom­ing gran­ite form. The place is Brumby Junc­tion, a 64-hectare prop­erty that’s home to Colleen and Dave O’brien. The cou­ple live here along­side their chil­dren Josh, 14, and 12-year-old Bri­die, their four dogs and nu­mer­ous other crea­tures that have found their for­ever homes here. It’s also a sanc­tu­ary and re­hom­ing fa­cil­ity for brumbies that have been trapped as part of man­age­ment pro­grams in Vic­to­ria’s Alpine and NSW’S Kosciuszko na­tional parks. There are cur­rently 60 or so horses here, from mares and foals, to for­mer stal­lions who were once the kings of wild brumby mobs. To­day they are in var­i­ous stages of their jour­ney to be­com­ing do­mes­tic horses. For Colleen, a for­mer dres­sage in­struc­tor, brumbies have been her love and fas­ci­na­tion since child­hood, grow­ing up in the sub­urbs of Mel­bourne read­ing Sil­ver Brumby books by Elyne Mitchell and dream­ing of rid­ing. “Any­one who grew up on Elyne Mitchell’s books loves th­ese horses,” says the 45-year-old. “They’re so in­trin­si­cally linked with our heritage, our lit­er­a­ture and the psy­che of our na­tion­hood. When so much of our heritage can only be seen in mu­se­ums, one of the won­der­ful things is to see them in the wild.” In 2001 Colleen and Dave — who works as the CEO of an in­dus­trial tex­tile busi­ness in Bal­larat — be­gan tak­ing in a few brumbies a year that had been culled from the Alpine Na­tional Park. “Back then a lot were go­ing for slaugh­ter, and too many were dy­ing. We just wanted to fig­ure out a way to save more brumbies and lobby to try to get a bet­ter deal for them.” In 2007 they started the Vic­to­rian Brumby As­so­ci­a­tion (VBA), a not-for-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion for brumby res­cue and re­hom­ing. Since then Colleen has lob­bied gov­ern­ments to re­tain man­aged pop­u­la­tions of brumbies in the >

CLOCK­WISE, FROM ABOVE A foal, born at Brumby Junc­tion from a Kosciuszko Na­tional Park mare, will be trained as part of the Aus­tralian Brumby Youth Chal­lenge; Colleen leads her rid­ing brumby Illinga in from the pad­dock with Shi­ralee fol­low­ing; Bri­die with dogs, Chips (left) and Bub­bles; boots and rope are pad­dock es­sen­tials; a flaxen maned chest­nut from Kosciuszko Na­tional Park. FAC­ING PAGE A pair of cu­ri­ous brumbies.

alpine re­gions, vis­ited wild horse pro­grams over­seas, and has res­cued, trained and re­homed more than 500 horses. Their tem­per­a­ments and easy train­abil­ity makes them ideal for rid­ing. “I am still sur­prised how quiet a wild horse is,” Colleen says. “There’s noth­ing like the con­nec­tion you get with a brumby you’re train­ing, and I’ve never had that with any other horse breed. The feel­ing is like a rush when you see the brumby re­alise you are not go­ing to eat them, and I love that.” But now there’s a new ur­gency. While NSW par­lia­ment re­cently passed the Brumby Bill, giv­ing the Snowy Moun­tains brumbies heritage sta­tus and af­ford­ing them some pro­tec­tion, it’s the re­verse in Vic­to­ria. The gov­ern­ment has en­dorsed Parks Vic­to­ria’s new man­age­ment plan that will see the com­plete erad­i­ca­tion of the small pop­u­la­tion of about 60 Bo­gong High Plains brumbies, and dras­ti­cally re­duce the re­main­ing pop­u­la­tion in the east­ern Alps by 1200 over the next three years. Th­ese horses have high heritage and cul­tural val­ues, many blood­lines de­rived from the Waler horses that served our sol­diers as World War One re­mounts that were bred on sta­tions in the alpine re­gion, and those that worked along­side the pi­o­neers. Colleen fears that the huge numbers tar­geted in the plan, many in re­mote alpine lo­ca­tions, will be be­yond the lim­ited ca­pa­bil­i­ties of re-homers, and that most are des­tined to be shot in the trap yards. “We view them as our heritage, and while we sup­port hu­mane man­age­ment in the wild, we want them to be there for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions to en­joy,” says Colleen. “The pub­lic needs to get be­hind th­ese brumbies or we’ll lose them, and those heritage links, and that abil­ity to con­nect with wild­ness, which is very pre­cious.” The prospect of a flood of horses coming out of the Alpine Na­tional Park soon adds all the more ur­gency to Colleen’s work in pre­par­ing the horses al­ready at Brumby Junc­tion for their new lives. And to­day, down in the yards it’s vac­ci­na­tion

“When I ride out on my horse and have this amaz­ing con­nec­tion be­tween us, there’s noth­ing like it.”

and mi­crochip­ping time for a group of very woolly brumby year­lings. With Bri­die on hand as­sist­ing, Colleen works with the vet, bring­ing the horses through one at a time, pre­par­ing th­ese lit­tle ones who were born at Brumby Junc­tion for their next big ad­ven­ture. Most of their mothers were from Kosciuszko Na­tional Park and were res­cued on the way to the knack­ery. In a few weeks’ time each will be go­ing to a se­lected novice or pro­fes­sional trainer who, over the next 150 days, will train th­ese young­sters. In Novem­ber they’ll all come to­gether again in Mel­bourne at Equi­tana, Aus­tralia’s pre­mier equine show­case, for the cul­mi­na­tion of the Aus­tralian Brumby Chal­lenge — a pro­gram in­tro­duced three years ago. It’s a chance for the train­ers to demon­strate their skills in front of judges, while pro­mot­ing the train­abil­ity and ver­sa­til­ity of brumbies to the gen­eral pub­lic. The event will in­clude the Youth Chal­lenge for the first time this year. “We have seven kids aged be­tween 10 and 16 do­ing the chal­lenge with the year­lings, and an­other 20 adult train­ers do­ing the rid­den chal­lenge with older horses,” says Colleen. >

“We’re run­ning the Youth Chal­lenge to sup­port Dolly’s Dream foun­da­tion [a char­ity set up in hon­our of the late Amy ‘Dolly’ Everett to raise aware­ness about bul­ly­ing]. It’s a re­ally fun pro­gram where kids get to build a re­la­tion­ship with their brumby, and all that is re­quired is em­pa­thy and for them to have good men­tors,” she says. “All the train­ers then get the chance to keep their brumbies, or if they can’t, those horses are auc­tioned at Equi­tana to ap­proved bid­ders only.” It’s also a means of sav­ing more brumbies, over and above the 50 or so a year that VBA’S pro­grams can han­dle. “We’re al­ways look­ing for ways to save more horses. And it will be won­der­ful to see th­ese beau­ti­ful foals — that would not have been born had their mothers gone to the knack­ery — in one of the big­gest horse events in the south­ern hemi­sphere.” When the yard work is done Colleen and Bri­die bring their own brumbies in from the pad­dock. Illinga, a sil­ver streaked bay mare from Tan­tan­gara in the Snowy Moun­tains, and Max, a hand­some blue roan who was once a stal­lion in a Kian­dra mob — also lo­cated in the Snowy Moun­tains — are Colleen’s much-loved mounts, while Bri­die has Buddy, a black from Bago. “For me at the end of the day, when I ride out on my horse and have this amaz­ing con­nec­tion be­tween us, there’s noth­ing like it, and that’s why I do all of this.” Mcdow­ell’s Aus­tralian Brumby Chal­lenge fi­nals will be held at Equi­tana Mel­bourne on 15th–18th Novem­ber, visit aus­tralian­brum­by­chal­lenge.com.au. For more in­for­ma­tion, visit vic­to­ri­an­brum­byas­so­ci­a­tion.org

Once wild stal­lions, th­ese hand­some boys are learn­ing the ropes to be­come do­mes­tic horses. FAC­ING PAGE Pres­i­dent of the Vic­to­rian Brumby As­so­ci­a­tion Colleen O’brien with Max and Illinga — both brumbies that have been res­cued from the Snowy Moun­tains.

The mob of bach­e­lor boys take off across the pad­dock.

Colleen and Max come up the laneway at Brumby Junc­tion with grey­hound Poppy and bor­der col­lie, Chips.

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