The Kimberley Calling | Part 2 | By Paul Allen
Continuing on from Part 1 ...
“Why don't you speak to that old gentleman down the road?” My mother suggested one night, “Mr Jolly is his name, he might be able to help.”
I knew who she was referring to, the school bus passed his place before I got off, there were horses in the paddocks, stables and yards. I'd see a younger man from there riding along the roadside in a western saddle from time to time, and I watched in awe. But I was a shy kid and was reluctant to talk to a stranger.
“I'll drive you down there after school tomorrow.” she said.
The Drive-way was well kept, the entire property was noticeably neat. Lawns mowed, fences well painted, and rocks bordering the circle garden bed in the centre. We pulled up and got out of the car. An elderly man approached us from the stables with a Blue Heeler dog close behind. He was wearing a long sleeved striped shirt, and an Open Road hat. Not a big man but he stood tall, his gait was a little awkward from a knee or hip injury, but he moved with a quiet confidence.
“Good afternoon.” He said with a smile.
“Hello Mr Jolly” my mother replied, “I'm Peggy from just down the road.”
“Pleasure to meet you Peggy, please call me Geoff” he said tipping his hat in an old fashioned way, “What can I do for you?”
“This is my son Paul, he'd like to ask for some advice about his horse.”
“Is that right...?” he said turning his attention to me.
I was looking down avoiding his gaze.
“So you've got yourself a horse?” he asked.
“Yep” I said looking up, “she's a three year old Arab cross filly” I blurted out.
“Oh!” he said trying to hide a grin, “and what seems to be the problem with your filly?” More confident now I stepped forward out of Mum's shadow, “I'm breakin' her in, I've handled her, and mouthed her, and I can get on her back but when I ask her to move she starts buckin'!”
He pushed his hat back on his head as if deep in thought, “Hmm... that is a problem” he agreed.
“Have you got a yard?” he asked
“Yep, got a good one.” I replied proudly.
“Well how about you put her in the yard on Saturday morning, I'll come down and we'll see what we can do with her?”
“That'd be great!” I said smiling.
I thanked him and shook his hand as firmly as I could, he gave Mum a knowing smile with a wink, then we drove out.
Saturday couldn't come quick enough, I was up at sparrow-fart and down in the valley. I had my filly in the yard giving her a good brush and working the knots out of her unruly mane and tail.
She was looking a picture by the time the red ute drove in. Mr jolly walked up to the yard and I shook his hand through the rails.
“She's a fine looking filly!” he remarked, and I smiled with pride.
“No saddle?” he asked looking around.
“I haven't got one” I said hoping it wasn't going to be a deal breaker.
“Well, why don't you move her around a bit and then climb on.” he said
She behaved well as he watched us, doing everything I asked on the ground, and then I climbed onto her back.
“Ok” he said stepping through the rails, “now you just sit there.”
He moved to the centre of the yard, I felt my filly get a little uneasy under me and she followed him with her ears.
“I'll move her, you just sit there”
“Righto” I said and grabbed a handful of mane ready for another pole-driving.
He took his right hand out of his pocket, pointed it behind her and made a clicking sound with his mouth. Her head went up and I could feel her about to explode, instinctively as soon as she moved I wanted to pull on the reins before she started to buck. But I could hear his voice in my head..'you just sit there', so I left the reins loose. She jumped into a trot, then after a few steps slowed to a walk.
All her attention was on Mr Jolly in the centre of the yard, she had forgotten about me.
He moved her around the yard, one way and then the other, walking and trotting, always giving her something to think about. I was just a passenger. Under his instruction I then gradually took over, turning her when he told me to, stopping her and letting her stand for a minute. When we moved off again he got me to squeeze with my legs as he clicked, and she started to associate the two.
After fifteen minutes he left the yard and instructed me from outside, adding that I needed to lower my hands, give her more rein, or change my seat and body weight at different times. I was beaming, and trying to take it all in. I was riding her, and she was listening to me....We were riding!
“That'll do her for today” he said.
I jumped off and rubbed her forehead.
“Ride her in here again tomorrow, then take her out the next day, keep her mind busy, you'll be right.” he said with a smile and headed back to his ute.
Thanking him profusely I promised to do as he suggested, then he stopped and looked back as he opened the ute door, “What's her name?” he asked.
I paused for a minute thinking, then replied “Skye”.
Skye got a well deserved hose down and a good feed.
That evening I drove the family mad practising, 'clicking' like a cicada!
The rest of the year was spent riding and exploring. My father got me a Saturday job on a local harness racing stud where I earned twenty-five dollars a day, and I saved enough money to buy myself a stock saddle. Dad was a Jazz musician, piano player his whole life, and now had a music shop and school. I had fond childhood memories of Christmas mornings with the family and a compilation of carols playing in the background, performed by noted Jazz artists. He would drop me off at the stud on his way to work and pick me up late in the afternoon.
It wasn't all smooth sailing, Skye had given up on the idea of becoming a buck- jumper thank Christ, but issues cropped up in the course of our education, and although we disagreed initially, we worked them out between us. We rode for longer periods and further afield as we gained confidence, she started to get foot sore and I realised she needed shoes.
There was a farrier not far from us so I booked her in. He was an hour late, then started to prepare her hooves for shoeing. I could tell straight away Skye didn't like him, she was fidgety and unsettled, he gave her a whack in the ribs with his hammer, “Stand up!” he growled.
“Hey” I said holding her lead rope, “It's the first time she's been shod”.
“Well she needs to fucken learn.” he said, “I've dealt with her kind before.”
Not only was it her first time but I had never had a horse shod before so I had nothing to compare the situation to.
Skye had never given me any trouble handling her feet, and I routinely cleaned them out
before and after each ride. But after he whacked her she became more uneasy which made him even angrier and it all spiralled from there. She got to the point where she didn't want him to even touch her, let alone stand for him to shoe her. Before long he had a 'Twitcher' screwed around her top lip. I had never seen one before but would later learn that they were used purely to cause pain, with the idea that the horse is in so much pain they are afraid to move a muscle. He also produced a big needle of tranquilliser and jabbed it into her vein, then tied up her legs and tipped her over. He hammered the shoes on with her on the ground, wheezing. He assured me that this is how it was done with young horses and that she needed to be taught a lesson. I hated the whole experience and felt sick watching my filly, who was clearly distressed and appeared to me to be afraid for her life. I was so happy when he left, if she had to endure this each time then I would work out another way so she didn't need shoes, she was my friend.
Eventually we wore out her shoes and reluctantly I resigned to the fact that if I wanted to continue riding her, she would need shoeing regularly. I decided I would try a different farrier.
Chris Hart was a mountain of a man, 'Shit, he's probably stronger than most horses!' I thought to myself as he approached the yard. He introduced himself and we shook hands, then he stepped in through the rails. If Skye got worked up again I was prepared to pay him in full, but ask him not to continue, I wouldn't have a repeat of the last time.
Before he started I explained my concerns and recounted her last shoeing, he only asked me one question.
“Was his name Peter?
I nodded and he rolled his eyes.
Turning to Skye he put his hand on her forehead, then quietly rubbed her neck, then down her leg and picked up her front foot. She was a different horse, he had a manner and confidence that relaxed her. The couple of times that she did start to pull her foot away he just held her calmly and she relaxed again. Forty-five minutes later she was dozing as she stood, wearing four brand new, well fitted shoes. I was so happy.
It was a hot day and I insisted he come inside for a cold drink before heading to his next job. He quenched his thirst appreciatively and I told him I was grateful for the way he treated my filly.
He explained that every horse he shod was treated the same way, it was nothing out of the ordinary. Then informed me that I was a bit far for him to come and he didn't usually travel this distance to a job. Concerned he might not agree to shoe her again I offered to pay him extra for the travelling time and would be happy to do so.
“No” he said, “How about this? The next few times I come out I'll teach you how to do it, then you can shoe her yourself, how does that sound?'
“I'd like that!” I replied with a smile.
We shook hands in agreement and he left for his next client.
By the end of the year he would only come out to supervise me hammering the nails in. Skye never again had to endure the kind of cruelty she was dealt from Peter, and I learned that no horse needed to.
I will always be grateful to Chis Hart.
Skye also shied frequently; she would suddenly dart sideways as if avoiding something dangerous instead of travelling in a straight line. Any information I read said it was not uncommon for young horses, and suggested riding her out with an older more experienced horse to reassure her. This wasn't an option for me so I looked for other alternatives and found that harness and race horses were sometimes worked with blinkers on to combat the problem. Blinkers are a cupped piece of leather that attaches to the bridle near the horses eyes and limits his peripheral vision, instead focusing the horses attention straight ahead. I decided to give it a go and it worked to a degree but brought another problem into play, the ranges were heavily timbered and the blinkers limited Skye's ability to judge passing trees and I received a few good whacks to the kneecaps when she hadn't left enough room for me to fit. Not keen on the idea of having my leg broken I taught her to give to the pressure of my legs when I pushed on her, not to turn her, more of a sideways movement which enabled us to navigate through the trees a lot better. But the blinkers were still hindering her so I abandoned them and looked for another remedy.
We would ride a long way now and sometimes find ourselves returning home after sunset. I noticed that her shying was greatly reduced in the dark as she had to concentrate more on where she was going, and not looking around. So after dinner I would sneak out at night and ride by the moonlight, her shying all but disappeared. But everything looked different in the dark and I couldn't see landmarks that I hadn't realised I relied on; valleys, ridges, kangaroo tracks, specific trees.
I was easily lost and at times had no idea which way was home. After blundering around in the dark for several hours one night, I resigned to the fact that we would have to wait for daylight to have any hope of finding our way out, I drooped the reins over Skye's neck and steeled myself for a cold six hours. After a few minutes she turned and started to walk calmly but purposefully, like she knew where she was going. She had had enough of my blundering and decided it was time to go home, to her waiting feed bin. I sat and let her have her head, certain at times that we were going completely in the wrong direction, then suddenly after an hour and a half of walking I recognised a tree that had been hit by lightning on top of the hill near our valley. I couldn't believe it, on a dark foggy night she had walked straight home, right to the gate of her yard, from somewhere she had never been before. It was then I realised that no matter how far we went I would never be lost. If I was unsure I would just drop the reins and let her take us home.
END of Part 2 | Part 3 coming soon!
Paul Allen was my Head Stockman on Carlton Hill in the East Kimberley in the early 1990's - a finer man you will not find, a horseman through and through, and not too bad with the pen either! I learnt many things from 'Woody' and he remains a close friend to this day.