I broke in my first horse when I was just 13 years old. I was so proud. No adult supervision involved. It was a huge secret, and a massive surprise to my parents.
In the Horse World, “Breaking In” is the term applied to Training and Educating a horse for riding. It is not a description of breaking a horse. Nor is it a description of breaking the horse’s spirit.
Both my parents were accomplished horse people. Both parents had devoted their lives to the horses. Dad’s business included Training and Re-Training the horses. He had a huge reputation for being able to retrain problem horses. The horses he trained were “Fool Proof“, whether they were thoroughbred racehorses, or stock horses, or children’s ponies. Fool Proof means, any fool could ride that horse. The Fool Proof horse would have impeccable manners and behaviour. It would never kick, bite or shy. It would be on its very best behaviour at all times, regardless if the rider was a professional or a novice.
As small children we watched my father train and break in the young horses. We loved watching this process. Dad talked and discussed his training methods with us. He was one of the many original “horse whisperers'”, long before the term became popular.
Dad used a very passive and gentle approach to training the horses. Firstly he gained the horse’s trust, and with trust came a willingness that you will not find in a horse that has been subjected to aggressive training.
My mother was very similar to my father, and that is how they met, through a mutual love and understanding of the horses.
My mothers former Show Horses were retired from the competition, and were used as Brood Mares, ie as breeding stock.
I recall being woken my mother one morning, to come quickly, and see Brownie’s new baby foal. Brownie was a Brown Mare, there was also Creamy, a cream mare, and Chessy, a chestnut mare. Obviously mum named each by their colouring.
I named the foal Baby. He was the cutest little brown colt. An absolutely adorable little thing. I asked my mum, if he could be mine. My very own foal, in fact my first foal. All my other horses were older, mature. horses. Mum agreed and said he would be mine.
I patted and touched and handled Baby from the very first day. I asked my father if he would teach me to break and train Baby, when Baby was old enough. Dad agreed, but suggested we would not educate Baby until he was at least two years old. I was so excited. Dad was the best in the business, and he was going to teach me his methods.
Both my parents were involved in the Cattle Industry. They were breeders of Stud Cattle. Dad was also a Stock Buyer, he purchased cattle on behalf of clients. His clients included the biggest butchers and suppliers to the Meat Industry, together with clients in the Dairy Industry. Dad would be engaged to buy thousands of head of cattle on behalf of his clients, as well as complete herds of Dairy Cattle and Breeding Stock. Dad’s business involved him being away for long periods, travelling the east coast of Australia when he had a large contract. Dad had also been a Drover in his youth. He loved the quiet and peaceful life of a Drover. Taking huge numbers of cattle from Victoria to Queensland in times of drought, and vice versa when drought hit Queensland.
Fast forward about a year or more. Baby was now eighteen months old. I had gained his trust, and he used to follow me around, mimicking my steps. If I walked in a circle, Baby followed me, if I ran, he trotted after me, if I stopped , he would stop. Baby was enjoying the games, the education. My father was away on a buying trip, and he was not expected to return for a month or more, before heading off again.
My older brother Brian was a very accomplished young rider, and already an apprentice Jockey. Being a Jockey meant he was up early, 4.00am or earlier, to ride the racehorses around the racetracks. He would return home by around 8.00am in the morning for breakfast, then off to school.
Brian was a terrific brother, and he offered to help me Break In Baby. Brian agreed with me, that I could do this, with his assistance, and we would keep it a secret from our parents. It would be a big surprise for Dad. I had the opportunity to prove to Dad, that I too was a horse woman. That I had learnt form the great mentor himself. We agreed, we thought dad would be proud.
After we had completed our jobs after school each day, we contrived our training of the young horse. I did most of the basic work, training Baby with the halter, the bridle, and teaching him to respond to voice commands and the reins. D ad used a training bridle with very long reins. The reins were about five metres in length, and you walked behind the horse, guiding him to respond to the left, the right, and to stop and go. Training the young horse to the saddle, included much work with a small pad, strapped on like a saddle to the horses back, and walking behind the horse. The horse had been taught to stand still, while we patted him all over his body, picked up his legs, inspected and handled his hooves etc. All of this training took months. Repetition, and reward, and soothing comforting words was the main theme of the training program. I spent just half an hour a day, every day for months. It also took a certain amount of cleverness, getting all my jobs done, then the secret training without my mother finding out.
Brian reviewed our progress on a regular basis, and offered his advice and tips. When we believed Baby was ready to be ridden for the first time, Brian suggested as he was the more experienced rider, that he would ride Baby for the first time. Baby performed brilliantly, and Brian was very impressed.
When it was time to complete the Fool Proofing, it was Brian who took Baby out onto the street, on the roads, and into the traffic. I was allowed to take Baby out into the back paddocks to train him in working with the cattle, and his stock training. It was also away from the prying eyes of my mother and my siblings.
In the meantime my father had returned home from his long trip. Dad suggested to me he would be able to start Baby’s training in a couple of weeks, he was busy with other commitments, but I could jot that down in my diary. It was now much harder to educate Baby in the yards near the house, now Dad was there with other horses in training.
Anyway Brian and I decided we had to let dad know about Baby. Dad was a very busy man and he would be postponing other more important commitments to train Baby. We decided that on a certain day, when we knew Dad would be home, that I would ride Baby up the road, and surprise dad at the back gate.
That turned out not to be such a good idea. Dad got such a shock to see my riding the young horse, he panicked. It was unlike my father to shout or make a noise around the horses. As far as dad was concerned, the horse was unbroken, untrained. Dad yelled at me to get off the horse. What on earth was I doing, he said.
I was taken aback, and a bit shaken by my fathers unexpected reaction. For some silly reason, I expected my father to praise me, to be proud of me. I stood my ground, and calmly told Dad, the horse was broken in. I told dad that I had been training Baby for months, and that Brian had helped me. When dad insisted that I get down from the horse and bring him into the yards, I became a little angry. For the first time in my life, I ignored my fathers request, I disobeyed my father. I turned the horse around and cantered off down the road. When I got far away from the house, and settled the horse down, away in the back paddock, I sat down and cried. I patted and consoled Baby, I told him it would be fine, it will all work out in the end.
I eventually unsaddled the horse, and walked him back up the road to his stable. After I had brushed him down, and fed him his evening meal, I sneaked back into the house. I would have to front up to my parents at the dinner table. There was no way out, I would have to confront my parents. I expected to be reprimanded, and would most probably be punished in some way. The secret mission had gone badly wrong.
I found Brian and told him about the afternoon’s event’s. I warned him that I was in trouble, and I had probably got him into trouble too. Brian said not to worry too much, he would stand up for me. Brian would have a word with both mum and dad, and explain the situation to them. Brian said that he was very proud of me, and when my parents got over the shock, they would also be proud.
Dinner was uncomfortable for all of us that night. The other siblings had been warned that I was in strife. Dad was still upset by the shock he had received that day, Mum was also a bit upset, but also mildly amused, and surprised that her little girl had such huge ambitions. Dinner turned out to be a very quiet affair, no one said very much at all, it was an uncomfortable situation, and a strained silence filled the air.
Mum came and talked to me after dinner. She told me she was initially shocked by my actions, but that my parents would evaluate the horse, and his training, within the next week. In the meantime I was not allowed to ride Baby, that he would be confiscated from me, and I would have to wait for the outcome. Mum suggested that I not judge my father too harshly. He was right to be shocked by my surprise to him. My father had no idea what I had been up to, and it was certainly not something that was expected of me, certainly not at such a young age.
I did not have to wait a week for the outcome. Dad’s inquisitive nature could not resist testing the horse for himself. He took Baby into the Ring Yard, the main basic Training Yard, and put Baby through his paces. Dad treated Baby as if he was an untrained horse to begin with. Then as Baby responded favourably to everything, Dad got on him and rode him. He took the young horse out into the Day Paddock, a larger paddock down the central lane in the middle of the yards, to the paddock below. Dad rode the young horse around the paddock, stopping and starting, turning and trotting, cantering the horse around the paddock.
Later dad tested the horse with a stock whip, which included cracking the stock whip beside the horse, as the horse stood quietly in the yard. Then dad cracked the stock whip as he rode the young horse. Baby passed all of dad’s tests with flying colours.
In the end, my parents did praise me, they were proud of me. However, as part of Baby’s training program, they advised my brother Brian would have the horse for the next two weeks. Brian would ride Baby to work every morning, to allow the horse to become familiar with cars and the road traffic. I reluctantly agreed, there was nothing much I could say.
I must admit when Baby was returned to my care, and I was allowed to ride him, Baby only seemed to have two speeds. Stop, and then gallop as fast as possible. Brian had jokingly trained Baby like a racehorse. Baby was taught to jump, from a standing start, then gallop at full pace as fast as he could. Luckily for me Baby was young and could be trained in any way, and for whatever purpose we wanted. The fast paced regime Brian had put him through was good training as a stock horse. Baby turned out to be an exceptionally good all rounder, and could be an excellent horse in both showing and competitions, as well as a very good stock horse.
What is the moral of this story. Or are there multiple morals, and or multiple stories. My original reasoning behind my project to ‘break in’ the young horse, I believe, was to prove to my parents, that their training and education of me was excellent. That I was proof that their mentoring was first class. Years later when I studied Sociology, I read various studies, and psychology reports about the middle child. I do not believe those studies relate to my family unit. My family differed to the norm, in so far as not only were both my parents business people, but my mother was fiercely independent in her own right. She was not a dominant mother, both my parents were equals. They both played a dominate role in raising and educating their children. All the children were treated as equals, and both parents played important roles in their mentoring and education in all areas.
There was a certain amount of sibling rivalry, it was only natural. There was also a positive hierarchy between the eldest born and the baby in the family, and they payed their roles accordingly. The two middle children my brother Brian and myself enjoyed the less prominent roles they other two held. The eldest child held a particular responsibility, to set the standard in behaviour for his younger siblings. The baby in the family had the most difficult role. Not only did she expect to be pampered, and wanted to do everything her older siblings enjoyed, she was at the same time restricted by her older siblings. I believe we all grew up with large ego’s, and a real sense of achievement in our own right.
My eldest brother was apprenticed as a butcher, and then later went on to manage many businesses, including running his own successful Fruit & Vegetable wholesaling and retail businesses.
Brian, the second born child became a very successful Jockey, then a Racehorse Trainer. He rode and raced thousands of horses, with great success.
I became the Taxation Professional, Accountant, a career that my parents had suggested would suit me.
My younger sister, the baby in the family has had success in business, with Restaurant’s and working in Bookkeeping and Administration roles. She was also involved in the Racing Industry, sharing ownership of many successful racehorses with her brother Brian.