There have been many changes for this little brumby. In just a few years he has travelled from the Bogong High Plains where he was a ten year old wild stallion roaming freely with his family of mares and foals to being trained under saddle and presented at Equitana in Sydney and Melbourne. Equitana is one of the biggest horse events in the country, where he has shown how wonderful and trainable the older brumbies are.
Parks Victoria run a successful passive trapping program to humanely manage brumbies in the Bogong High Plains region of the Victorian Alpine National Park. These brumbies are removed from the park and are taken to the Victorian Brumby Association (VBA), located near Beaufort, past Ballarat, in Victoria. The VBA are the largest brumby rescue organisation in the country and have successfully saved and rehomed hundreds of brumbies from both the Victorian Alpine National Park and the Kosciuszko National Park since 2007 when they first formed. Run by passionate volunteers, the VBA work extremely hard to help change the perception of our brumbies and to push for humane management of wild horses.
One of the many success stories is that of ‘VBA Curious George’ who was passively trapped in 2011 from the Bogong High Plains as a ten year old stallion with his mares and foals. Curious George was named as a result of a photo match-up after capture. A journalist had been in the area taking photos of the brumbies and this strong looking stallion with four white socks and an impressive mane and tail showed a lot of interest in her, approaching with curiosity and confidence. Once he arrived at the VBA he was recognised as the same stallion as his mares and foals were also in the photos making for easy identification.
As is the case with all stallions and colts taken in by the VBA, George and his oldest foal, ‘VBA Buster’, were gelded and then handled ready for re-homing. Buster was then homed to a lovely lady in Tasmania. His lead mare, ‘VBA Breeze’, was in foal and had a young foal at foot. They too were handled and re-homed, to wonderful homes in Victoria.
George came to live with me in January 2012 after having some time out in the paddocks at the VBA. This is an important part of the process which all the brumbies at the VBA go through as they need time to adjust and settle into domestic life – it is certainly a big change from what they are used to. The mares are generally turned out straight away so as to minimise stress and allow them to foal in peace before being handled when the foals are ready to be weaned. The stallions need to be gelded before being turned out, but once gelded they can have some basic handling and then be turned out to adjust to domestic life before being brought back in for more handling and then re-homing.
George was my second VBA Brumby. Colleen, the president of the VBA, said that she had a lovely older stallion ready to go if I was interested. I said of course I would take him, and drove up to Beaufort to collect him, not having seen him other than maybe one photo, I knew he would be brilliant with time. He was still fairly shy of people, but standing in the yards with a halter and rope on I was able to spend a little time with him before we loaded him into the float and brought him home. He was curious and interested, certainly living up to his name!
The first few days were spent just touching him all over and working on leading and teaching him to yield to pressure. He progressed so quickly and I was instantly in love with him. He came along really quickly, putting so much trust in me and happily tackling everything that I asked him to attempt. It wasn’t long before we were able to progress to saddling and first ride, which he accepted really calmly and willingly.
From then on we worked on all the basics of our groundwork and ridden work, and it was only weeks after his first ride that I was able to put beginner riders on him. He looks after his rider and can be a little lazy at times, which isn’t always a bad thing, especially when teaching beginners how to ride.
At the end of 2012 I sold George to a lady who wanted a safe, quiet and well mannered horse to enjoy and attend horsemanship clinics with. It was a good match but unfortunately she suffered ongoing pain from pre-existing injuries and found she was unable to spend as much time with him as she had planned and was unable to ride, so she contacted me and I bought him back. It had been six months since I sold him and he hadn’t really been ridden at all in that time yet I was able to hop on him bareback in a halter and ride around happily like our last ride together was only the day before! This was when I realised how truly special this former brumby stallion was. He seemed happy to be doing some work again, and was happy to be reunited with his paddock mates.
Since getting George back I have done quite a lot with him, and he has been ridden mainly by my friend who I have taught to ride over the past few years. She had never been around horses before we met but she is already very competent on the ground and her riding has really progressed since riding George. She will compete in some interschool competitions with him in 2015 in her final year of school. He is yet to be ridden in a bit, but we will be teaching him to accept the bit now so that he can compete, however he is quite happy and safe ridden in a bitless bridle or halter.
The biggest highlights for George so far have been attending Equitana in Sydney in 2013 and Melbourne in 2014. In 2013 we drove from Geelong, Victoria, to Sydney for Equitana, with George and my other brumby ‘VBA Smokey’, a younger gelding from Long Plain in Kosciuszko National Park. We took the boys to Equitana to promote brumbies as wonderful allrounders, and they made us very proud with their brilliant calm attitudes in such a big and busy environment. Smokey was a little nervous at first but with George to support him he soon relaxed and they both represented brumbies exceptionally well.
In 2014 we returned to Equitana, this time in Melbourne, and George represented brumbies in the Breeds Village for the VBA. He spent the weekend in the stable in the Breeds Village, where hundreds of people enjoyed patting him and I was able to share his story and further promote brumbies and the great work that the VBA does. Again his calm and willing attitude stood out and we received great compliments from the Equitana volunteer transport teams who move the horses through the crowds, saying that he was one of the most relaxed horses there, making their job very simple; high praise considering the high standard of horses there, some who have competed internationally.
In our breed display George wowed the crowds with his quiet and well mannered display of ridden work, where we rode around with a big Australian flag, played with a giant horse soccer ball and cantered around the arena on a loose rein in a bitless bridle, all whilst a crowd of people looked on from the stands. Pretty impressive for a brumby caught from the wild as a ten year old stallion only a few years earlier.
Curious George is a very special brumby. He has taught us a lot about communicating with horses, and has shown some sceptical people that older brumbies can be trained with ease. It is sad to think of the many older brumbies that aren’t given the chance to be as wonderful as George is purely because people don’t think they can be trained, that they are too wild, dangerous, or set in their ways. This couldn’t be further from the truth and in reality we have found the older stallions to actually be the easiest to train and work with as they have a really well developed self confidence and understanding of ‘horse language’ which means that we can easily communicate with them and teach them what we would like them to do using clear body language cues supported by pressure and the release of pressure.
We have also experienced some special moments when George and his lead mare Breeze were reunited on two occasions. It was clear that they recognised each other and they obviously shared a special connection and even after time apart they knew each other and I’m sure remembered many happy times together from when they were living free in the Bogong High Plains. This was a special thing to witness as it was a reminder of the close emotional bonds that horses can form not only with each other but with people also. I am humbled to be so trusted by this once wild brumby ‘stallion’, and to be able to form such an amazing connection with him and know that I can rely on him to look after my friends and clients.
The past few years with George have been amazing, and I look forward to many more fantastic experiences with him. For all that he has taught me and allowed me to experience, I am so glad that I could give him a safe future and a happy life in return. He is a very special brumby and is real testament to the quality of our wild horses.
G.C. Natural Horsemanship