Sunny was always an easy horse. His gentle nature and love of people contradicted my idea of a brumby. I first set out to catch a couple of Australia’s wild horses in 1996. I’d heard of a mob running on private land near Lake George, north of Canberra where I was living at the time. After making arrangements to access the property, a few of us went to suss out how we might go about a muster.
The country was lightly wooded with flat grasslands nestled among rolling hills. Dead limbs from the gum trees provided ideal timber for rails and their trunks were spaced well for live posts. Using wire twisted around the joins, we were able to construct an enclosure without needing to damage the trees with nails. Building twin yards in a natural gully, we also made a funnel-like fence to guide the horses in.
Not relying on our mustering skills alone, one of us placed hay out each day, enough to entice hungry horses without overfeeding them. Each day we moved the hay nearer to the yards to accustom the brumbies to the structure and any smell of us that might linger. When it seemed they came and went with ease, we made a date and booked a truck.
That misty morning in April we gathered at the property, shivering with cold and anticipation. Until then we had no idea what horses had been availing themselves of the free feed or how many there might be. We passed several small mobs on the way in, some bachelor colts and stallions, other groups containing mares with youngsters at foot. It was the latter we were after, keen to take those of an age to be weaned. By taking young horses we hoped to give them a chance to develop with a well-balanced diet and good veterinary care. Two colts caught my eye, one a chestnut with a flaxen mane and tail, the other all black. The black looked in terrible condition and appeared to be an orphan. The chestnut ran with a palomino mare who was in foal again. She would benefit from the colt being weaned.
Our preparations paid off and the drive went well. With a bit of whip cracking and blocking those that tried to turn aside from the wings, the horses galloped towards the gully. We were ready to slip the gate rails across as soon as enough horses had entered the first of the temporary yards. It all seemed to be going smoothly until a stallion sensed the trap. Already in the pen he reared and spun. Horses cantering in behind him propped and turned. Pandemonium broke out. Some horses still came in as others tried to escape. Despite our best efforts it looked as if we would lose the lot.
Deciding we’d have to be content with the few horses still in the yards, we slid the rails in place and let the panic settle. The thundering hooves of those escaping dissipated in the distance. Snorts and whinnies came from those still trapped. As they settled down I was delighted to see the black and chestnut colts among them.
The next task was to separate out those we wanted from those we’d release. Going in with a mob of wild horses in a panic was not the best idea. We opened the rail to the smaller yard that led to the where the horse truck had its ramp down. From where we perched on the rails, we moved the milling horses to manoeuvre those we wanted into the smaller yard. One at a time we trapped each horse, driving them onto the truck or releasing them before the next one entered the small yard.
Soon we had those we wanted. Loose on the open truck, they kicked up a fuss as we let the remainder of the brumbies go. Not wanting them to get hurt we drove off as soon as possible, taking it slowly to cause the minimum distress possible.
Despite this, by the time we reached home the chestnut had badly cut his leg. We turned the black colt out with our other horses to settle and coaxed the injured colt into a stable.
Sunshine Satin as we named him, or Sunny, couldn’t have been a better patient. Right from the first day he accepted our handling. It didn’t take long of pushing him away from us in his 5m square loose box for him to want to come to us. The gash in his leg meant he was stabled for a full month. Despite a small scar, the injury never caused him any further problems.
Always a delight to work with, I brought him on slowly and at four years old broke him in. Although a strong horse, he never grew as tall as I’d hoped. Realising it would be unfair of me to ask him to carry me in endurance I sold him to Cochran Horse Treks. There he spends his days taking visitors over the Snowy Mountains to see the wild brumbies.
This true story was the inspiration behind the first of the Brumbies series.