A farrier’s life is certainly full of variety. During January and February 2006, I spent five weeks in the USA, firstly speaking at the Third International Hoof Summit, lastly attending the Omaha Convention, and, in between, juggling 21 plane flight legs, speaking, teaching and learning a lot about how American farriers and horse owners work without actually seeing much of the country itself apart from airport lounges. People are so friendly and interested everywhere which is wonderful, and hoof problems are the same everywhere which is not wonderful at all but that is another story.
I spend a lot of the year travelling Australia in my 4WD, teaching the ringers (cowboys) on the cattle stations (ranches) how to trim and shoe their own horses, as there are no farriers in the Outback. The obvious benefit of running these courses is that the ringers and managers tell me that their horse-related accidents are virtually nil after five years of teaching, solely due to better hoof care. I run two day courses or clinics on approximately 40 stations, and run another 20 or so courses mainly in rural towns where horse owners want to trim their own horses due to lack of farriers. I cover around 50,000 kilometres each year.
While I am home I catch up with my local clients – the deal is that nowadays I travel most of the year so I cannot be a regular farrier to them, but they uncomplainingly book me in whenever they hear on the grapevine that I am back in town.
Leaving out the bits about horses and hoof problems, following are extracts from my diary of my Australian travels that followed over the next few months.
Arrived back from the USA
2 day Course as a fundraiser for the Coffin Bay Pony Preservation Society – these are wild ponies sourced from Eyre Peninsula that have the most wonderful placid temperament and are just wonderful for kids, but the Society has to raise $300,000 to preserve the land for these little fellas. Around 24 horse owners turned up for the course.
Stocked up on tools and equipment, caught up on website queries, caught up with shoeing clients, packed up the 4WD ready to move on again.
March 13-14 QUINYAMBIE STATION
800 Km north east from home was the first course at Quinyambie Station just inside the dog fence in South Australia (the dog fence keeps out the dingoes). Temperature was a searing 40+ degrees C, and I was dehydrated after the first day.
March 16-17 NARYILCO STATION
The next course was at Naryilco Station, another 300 Km north into the Channel Country of Queensland. It is harsh, dry and stony country
March 19-20 INNAMINCKA STATION
To reach Innamincka Station I headed 200Km back inside the South Australian border. The country is sandy and desolate. Just a few kilometres to the east a monument marks the site of the death of John O’Hara Burke, leader of the ill-fated Burke and Wills Expedition of 1861, whilst the site of Wills’ death is a few kilometres east.
March 22-23 DURHAM DOWNS STATION
I tacked 200km north east this time to Durham Downs Station. The Station was to have a wedding over the weekend, so the workers & I were despatched to the stock camp for the duration of the course to free up some kitchen space and some rooms. The road from the homestead to the camp was the worst bit of rocky road I have ever encountered. We slept in the shed on camp stretchers and I was given a swag (bedding) that hadn’t been used for several years and was inhabited by an unpleasant assortment of wildlife. The cook accompanied us in a self contained truck complete with shower, but he was not prepared to share this luxury with us. It was a relief to finally move on to the next station after I finished the course. I had to detour through Quilpie as the creeks were flooding from Cyclone Larry which had hit Innisfail (1000 Km away on the northern coast of Queensland) a few days earlier
March 25-26 KEEROONGOOLOO STATION
From one extreme to the other, I was accommodated in the two storey guest house, with all mod cons and a comfortable bed and my own shower. En-route to the next station I blew a tyre on the rocky road. I was lucky enough to find a replacement for my spare in the small township of Windora. The business owner was totally blind, having lost his sight several years ago after an illness. His workshop had no interior lights as he didn’t need them, so he directed me to go three bays back and two to the right, so that I could find the correct tyre. He then proceeded to change and fit the new tyre in expert fashion. The only time I was needed was to check the tyre was inflated to the correct pressure.
March 28-29 MORNEY PLAINS STATION
The flies had been thick on every station, but Morney Plains Station seemed to top them all. It is impossible to work in a fly veil, so they crawled in your nose, eyes and ears and you dared not open your mouth. Two year old Dusty, the manager’s daughter, was never without her fly veil or her dummy, and her pony had a matching fly veil.
March 31-April 1 GLENGYLE STATION
– the last course for this trip.
April 2 – HEADING FOR HOME
When I reached Birdsville, the Birdsville Track leading to home was straight ahead. But I spied a service station in the next street and decided to stock up on iced coffee for the trip. Then headed straight ahead, not remembering that I was on another street. The road was wide bitumen, and I wasn’t concerned when after a few km it changed to dirt, then to sand. A huge sandhill (‘Big Red’ as I later found out) was in front of me, so over I went, and only then decided that perhaps just maybe I was on the wrong track. There was no way I could get back over the Big Red to return to Birdsville, so consulted the map & decided to keep going to Alton Downs.
After being bogged several times, I realized that I would have to go back. I made it back to Big Red and contemplated what to do. The first attempt didn’t get me anywhere near the top. Plus it had an overhang, so it was like a double sand hill. The second try was not much better. Each time I had to unbog the car, digging the whole of the underneath away. It was so hot I lay in the hole under the car to recover, and realised I was listening to the noise of sand running into the hole that I had dug, and that the car would probably sink down onto me. My mobile phone was out of range just 40km from the Birdsville Police Station, my VHF radio didn’t raise a soul.
On the third try, I nearly made it to the top, and by then it was getting late in the afternoon. Each time I had to back the car several hundred metres away to gain a run up. I decided I only had one chance left. I shored up the wheels using my dismantled tool box and my leather shoeing apron, backed the car back several hundred metres, put it in low range 4WD and gunned it to its absolute limit. This time I actually got the front tyres onto the downwards slope of Big Red. I retrieved my scattered materials, and then arrived back in Birdsville totally exhausted about 6.30pm and spent the night at a motel.
April 3 – drove the 1200 Km back to Adelaide in one day, it was such a pleasure to sit in air conditioned comfort and do nothing but drive.
April 4 – Home again – two whole weeks home to catch up on office work and my very patient clients.
Easter – drove from Adelaide to Alice Springs 1500Km, went to the airport and met my friend Carl, a former farrier from Maine USA who accompanied me as an extra pair of hands for three weeks, then headed a further 700 Km north to Helen Springs Station, for my first course. Huge rains deluged this area over the previous few weeks, and I hoped that we would be able to get through. On the way I stopped to show Carl the landmark for the Tropic of Capricorn, then we stopped again at the Devils Marbles, an amazing rock formation near Tennant Creek.
April 19-20 HELEN SPRINGS STATION
Very hot weather, around 38 degrees and very humid with all the recent rain. After the first day of the course, the ringers put on an impromptu rodeo and we sat on top of the fence and predicted which way the horses would buck (part of my teaching). The country looked fantastic after all the rain, and I can’t remember even seeing a fly today which is a huge bonus in Australia. Another tropical cyclone headed over Queensland and was expected to dump a whole lot of rain over the area where I was headed.
On the course was a woman who had driven 700km from Alice Springs to participate. She had no prior experience but was really determined and worked really hard. She had hit herself in the mouth with the hoof nippers while pulling out a nail, and had a huge bruise on her mouth.
Driving up to the course, she saw a donkey with badly neglected feet at the roadhouse, so told the owners she was doing a Hoof Care course, and that she would come back and trim it on her way home. This is the email that she later sent to me:
“I stopped at Barrow Creek to do the donkey. You probably won’t think much of how I handled it, but this is how it went. I turned up and said that we’d need her halter. They all looked at me like I was strange and said that she didn’t have a halter. I told them well we’ll need to tie her up and they reckon she’s never been tied up. I asked how they get the hooves done and she’s never had her hooves done.
I’d already figured out that she’s never handled (patted and fed yes, but never handled) and things may not go too well and if I had any doubts they were soon cleared up when we found her near a group of aborigines who got up and walked away one by one when they saw me start making a halter. So I made her a halter out of a rope and I didn’t put it too tight because I didn’t want her to fight the halter. I tried picking up the feet, but that was going no where and my clippers weren’t big enough and she was getting upset so I stopped. I didn’t really know what to do, but I couldn’t leave her like that. The poor thing could hardly walk.
So, (and this is the part you may not think very much of after all that good training) I asked if they had a saw and I sawed the long bits off while she stood on the ground. Then I used the clippers to cut off the flares, all while she stood with her feet on the ground. I showed them how to pick up her legs (no ‘dog bites’ because she really reacts to that) and told them to do that a few times when they feed her and in a couple months I’ll come back and clean out the bottoms and trim up the hooves better.
It does not look pretty, but she can walk now. And she didn’t have a bad experience so she wasn’t too upset. I didn’t get bitten or kicked which was good because I already had a sore foot that had been stomped on twice, a sore hand that just got caught by the edge of a hoof when one of the horses kicked, a sore mouth and was also just sore all over anyway. They were very pleased with it. But it is an ugly job.”
Now that is one gutsy lady!
Before we left for the next station, the manager drove us out for a tour of the dams, the bores, the paddocks, the yards and the sheds. Then after smoko (morning tea) he insisted we stay a bit longer so the pilot could take us up for a flight to look at it from above (every station has a plane and a pilot). That was the first day that they could do any mustering since the rain started two weeks before. The cattle ships were already waiting in Darwin Harbour, and the managers were anxious to get them loaded.
We headed up the Stuart Highway, the highway running from Darwin in the north to Adelaide in the South of Australia and I had planned to show Carl the bronze statue of a drover at Newcastle Waters before we turned off to our next port of call. However the highway was cut by water; a dinghy tethered to the side of the road offered the only means to cross the flooded road, so we backtracked.
To reach Eva Downs, we travelled for 200 Km along the Barkly Stock Route which is always an amazing sight as it is completely flat, with not a land mark in sight, not even the smallest tree. This year the one difference was the grass was green, whereas for the last four years it has been brown. Also we traveled through patches of water 18” deep which stretched up to three kilometres at a time, between which the car threw up copious clouds of bull dust as the temperatures were up around 38 degrees Celsius.
April 22-23 EVA DOWNS STATION
When we arrived at Eva Downs Station there were 3,000 cattle in the yards, so we finished our day helping with yard work. 1700 calves were weaned off their mothers, and seven bulls put in with the cows. Carl was disconcerted to find the toilet bowls full of large green tree frogs – this is pretty standard in tropical areas, and they just do not go away. You certainly need to be mindful to leave the lid down so they are not all through the house. Of greater concern to me are the snakes that come in through any available opening to look for food such as the frogs.
Finished the course at 4pm on the second day and everyone helped us pack up quickly so we could leave in daylight as the road had been washed away so deeply in places that you could lose a truck in it. We stopped and looked at some brolgas on the way. Had a great BBQ, one of the lads was 21, so the cook put on pavlova and birthday cake.
APRIL 24-25 ANTHONY LAGOON STATION
The first year I taught at Anthony Lagoon (the neighboring property to Eva Lagoon), the metal horse yards were in full sun, and the heat from the rails was blistering. I must have complained a lot, as the following year the yards had been completely covered with shade cloth, making it a pleasure to work there. This year, a few weeks after I returned home, Anthony Lagoon and Eva Downs were sold for a reported $97m. The two properties total 2.3 million acres and carry 62,000 head of cattle. These are my two favourite stations, but sadly neither of the station managers stayed on with the new owners.
APRIL 26-27 WALHALLOW STATION
Walhallow is just around the corner from Anthony Lagoon so that was easy traveling, but six days teaching in a row is pretty demanding. Had an easy time with only six people on this course – they were really switched on and interested which makes it even easier. The second day of the course was in drenching rain due to the backlash of the cyclone, which added to our uncertainty of traveling north next day. Anne emailed us a newspaper article about Arkaba Station which has opened its doors to ‘high-yield US tourists’ for $850 per day. And that is evidently cheap – El Questro Station charges $1950 per day and Wrotham Park Station in Queensland is $1400 per day- Carl was impressed with how much he was saving on those prices.
APRIL 28 – TRAVEL
After leaving Walhallow, we traveled 100Km north and had a bush pie mid morning at the legendary Heartbreak Hotel, then 300Km west to the Daly Waters Pub for a steak sandwich at lunchtime before heading to 200Km north to Katherine and then 100Km down to Willeroo. The pub (hotel) is a tourist icon and has been decorated with articles of underclothing for some reason abandoned by their owners.
APRIL 29-30 WILLEROO STATION
There were 8 on this course, including the manager’s wife Linda, who had left the manager back at the homestead babysitting their three young children. Because of all the rain it was awfully humid, but we were so lucky to find all the roads passable, as a week earlier we would have been stranded. Carl & I waddled out after dinner, which was braised steak & onions, Thai noodles, peanut beef, and other similar dishes. The cook had walked out the day before we got there (seems to be a regular occurrence, station cooks are a temperamental bunch), so the manager’s wife and a couple of the girls were doing kitchen duties.
At dinner time two pilots plus choppers arrived from Helimuster (a helicopter mustering service based at a nearby station), and the manager said that if we weren’t in a hurry to leave early next morning, we could have a ride, one in each chopper. The choppers are tiny, and have no doors so the noise is horrific, and only hold the pilot plus one passenger. So we had two hours mustering in a Helimuster chopper, which was a bonus for Carl. The pilots wouldn’t let us have breakfast before they took us up and when they came across a few stubborn animals, the pilots put us on the ground while they sorted the animals out with diving and low flying techniques.
We drove on to Tipperary Station, the first time I had been invited to run a course there, so it was quantity unknown. But it was an amazing place of around 7,300 square miles. It was formerly a wildlife park and was sold in 2003 to the current owner for $50m, and he has been rebuilding it. There are around 130 staff and 30 houses along two avenues nestled in Palm trees, so it is a community in itself with tennis courts and an indoor pool. It even has its own school as well as an airport lounge plus store and post office.
MAY 2-3 TIPPERARY STATION
Had eight girls on the course – they had just completed an Artificial Insemination programme on 1500 heifers, and management was so pleased with them that my hoof care course was arranged as a bonus to them. They had no prior experience, but they were a really switched on group. There are not a lot of horses on Tipperary, where they tend to use vehicles, but there were enough to keep the girls on the move.
Finished the course at 2pm on the second day. John the station manager decided to take us all fishing so all the girls piled in one car, & Carl & I went in my 4WD, but after about 10km we came across a station hand in a Toyota stuck in mud up to its doors. We all tried to pull the car out, but broke two tow ropes, so we gave him a lift back to the station and abandoned the idea of fishing. Found a rogue bull on the way back, so we grounded him and one of the girls donated her leather belt as hobbles, then left him to be retrieved and moved next day.
We have just finished our course with David this afternoon and have come to the conclusion that the man is brilliant. It has taught us so much, David is a fantastic teacher.
Thank you again
Well that was the next leg of the courses completed. Carl & I drove up to Darwin, and played tourists for two days. We had planned a day’s fishing for Barramundi, but the weather was against us. We went through the underground oil tunnels that were built during World War Two but never used, ate fresh Barramundi at beautiful Cullen Bay, toured the bays around Darwin, watched the tropical sunset at Fannie Bay and saw Sweetheart the 17 foot crocodile preserved at the Darwin Museum. I arranged to leave my 4WD in safe keeping with friends then we flew 3,000km home to Adelaide and our wives. I had three weeks at home ahead of me before flying back to Darwin, where the next six week leg of my teaching takes me from Darwin across to Broome, around 2000km. Australia is roughly the same size as America, and it just isn’t possible to keep driving back home.