© Jill Brown, 2017. Image: Quambatook.
Quambatook (or Took as he is known to friends) was born on the 26th of September, 2011. He is the first foal to be born at the Hyland Walers stud. It sounds very grand and professional to refer to the place as a stud – it almost sounds as if I know what I’m doing which is very much not the case. I stumble along from moment to moment, always thinking that others know more than I do until I find that they don’t and then I ’m cross with myself for following advice that my gut said was wrong. More on that later.
Took’s name is important. Quambatook, a small town in northern Victoria, is where my great-grandfather had a property, Clifton. He bred Walers for the British army in India and my grandmother’s stories were full of the adventures she had with her horses. The story of the race with the train and her sulky pulled by Blackie is one for another day. So Quambatook is the formal name by which my boy is known. His everyday name is Took and for those of you who are Tolkien fans, this has significance. Bilbo’s willingness to go adventuring with Gandalf is attributed to his ‘Tookish’ nature, and this trait is evident again in Frodo. Tooks are regarded as being different to the norm of hobbits and I can only say that, since birth, my Took has been slightly different to every other horse I have known.
Took came to my place in utero. His mother, the lovely Madam Butterfly, was on her way to Tasmania. She had been with the Treasures at Homelands, making a baby with Akbah, their beautiful black Waler stallion, the son of Dardenelle. The longer Butterfly stayed with me, the more I loved her, and an offer to buy her was successful. Took was born in the early hours of the morning. I came out, tastefully clad in striped pyjamas and gum boots, to find that he had been stolen by Poppy, the boss mare, and was trotting around after her, followed by a plaintively calling Butterfly. Clearly I had to separate them but how to do this without a lead rope? My pyjama top was twisted to form a rope and Poppy was put into another paddock. Unfortunately, the mare next in line, Slipper, now claimed the foal. I spent some time shifting horses until at last Took and Butterfly were together. I sometimes wonder what the passing traffic thought of a woman past her prime stomping around a paddock in pyjama bottoms and gumboots but better not to dwell on that.
Took was not a particularly attractive baby – all legs and big ears with a little white beard – but right from the start he was full of character.
An early adventure when he was only weeks old led him through the fence to the very steep banks of the creek. All the horses were lined along the fence calling him with Butterfly keeping pace on her side of the fence while baby Took negotiated wombat holes, steep drops, deep pools and dense blackberries. As I watched he trotted back to her, stuck his head through the fence, had a long drink and then continued exploring. Needless to say I spent several hours fixing fences. Later in his foal-hood I provided Took with a large ball, complete with a handle. He used this to hit the other horses, an activity he seemed to enjoy. Possibly they did as well though I’m uncertain of this.
Took responded well to initial lead work. He was always happy to come out of the paddock and explore. Going back into the paddock was a very different matter. He would consistently come to a complete stop and rest one leg, half way through the gate. Nothing worked. Tugs on the lead rope, encouraging words, less encouraging and more abusive words, tapping with a dressage whip – all ignored. A friend recommended a bum rope. This did get a response. Straight up in the air, bum rope dislodged, bum rope stamped on, picked up in teeth and shaken. Finally, when it was clear the bum rope was dead, Took resumed playing statues in the middle of the gateway. I resorted to getting behind and pushing which worked but which lacked dignity. I sought advice from Carlos (Carlos Tabernaberri – horse magician – check him out if you’re unfamiliar with his work). Carlos said to ignore him. So – Took stopped, I stopped but didn’t react at all. This worked! In less than a minute Took was bored and walked on. Victory!
Took made his first visit to Carlos when he was three. Although he got off to a great start with Carlos riding him bareback by the second day, the judgement was that he was ‘still very young in the head’ and I should give him some more time to mature. So Took came home and we continued with groundwork – walking over, under, through, around and Took’s personal best – backing up. Took both learned and became bored quickly so the challenge was to find new things to do. This extra time to mature worked well as I was waiting for a hip replacement and very limited in my ability to ride. The time came to return to Carlos but Took had decided for reasons best known to him that he no longer wanted to go onto the float. This had never been a problem. He strolled on, stood calmly looking out the window and strolled off again at journey’s end. Now I had two weeks before he was due at Whispering Acres to finish his education with Carlos and, while Took was more than happy to stroll on, he strolled off again before I was able to close the float. So I sought advice and here I remind you of my earlier comments regarding so-called horse experts.
The first expert, a local woman, was very sure she knew what to do. It was the tried and true ‘tap tap tap’ method. Took glared at her, glared at me and walked onto the float and – miracle – stood there. The expert pushed the bar across to close the float. Took dropped to his belly and began to shuffle out backwards under the bar. The expert threw her hands in the air and left. Enter expert number two. His advice – it was all my fault – I just needed to be firm. He demonstrated the required firmness by flicking Took in the face with the lead rope. This did not go well. Took doubled in size and refused to move anywhere at all, let alone go near the float. Second expert left telling me my horse was mad and needed to be put down. Once Took was quite sure he was gone, he dropped his head, strolled onto the float, paused briefly and strolled off again. I now had ten days to get him float trained and up to Carlos. Clearly it was down to me. The float remained permanently attached to my car and every morning and every evening Took and the ever reliable Lili Marlene came up and had a bucket of food on the float. By the third day I could stand at the back and rub Took’s bottom while he ate and by day ten, the day of departure, he strolled on, stood calmly while I closed the float and travelled like a pro. The moral of the story, trust in yourself to know what works for your horse.
I was nervous when it came time for me to ride but, as soon as I was in the saddle, it just felt good. Took stood, resting a back foot and had to be gently persuaded to move. I am riding bitless as I do with all my horses and Took is calm, responsive to my voice and other aids and interested in everything around him. His reaction to the unexpected is a real Waler response – stop and have a good look. His trot is superb (he floats) and his canter is even better. The only issue so far is getting on (I need a mounting block or a ladder) and getting off (that slightly worrying sensation of being in free fall).
We’re taking it slow with short rides out into the bush but – touch wood – Took hasn’t put a hoof wrong. Give him another twelve months and he really will be Mr Wonderful. I leave the closing remarks to a non-horsey friend. Remember the big ears. I showed her recent photo of Took. Her comment – ‘I didn’t know you had mules’.