Todd River Downs Horse Capture

Angela Tiede, June 2023. Image: Waler mares Topsy and Bess, with filly foal Indi

For those interested here is the timeline of steps taken along the journey to capturing and bringing to Victoria horses from Todd River Downs, NT. In addition, a diary of milestones noted in their first year of captivity. This project commenced in around March of 2019, and was made possible only on the basis of research done starting in 2016 by Janet Lane and funds raised by the Liston family in 2019.

More photos and information are available in other posts, all shared on this website to document publicly for future before details and photographs are lost over time.

The document just below contains thumbnail pictures of all horses captured.

Year 2019

April 15 to April 18: Fly to Alice Springs from Melbourne to meet with Traditional Owners and Central Land Council representatives to explore receptiveness to the proposed project, along with investigating capture, feed and transport options should the project go ahead.

April/May: Prepare and submit permit documentation and establish plan, funds and timeline for project.

May 31: Permit to enter Traditional Owned land for the purpose of capturing and removing 20 horses issued by Central Land Council, Alice Springs, NT.

Lunch cooking over coals near the yards at Todd River Downs NT

June 2: Fly from Melbourne to Alice Springs for overnight and preparation to collect vehicle and supplies and drive to Todd River Downs on Monday 3 June.

June 3 to June 7: Capture and select horses for removal, with the assistance of Traditional Owners.

June 7: Horses trucked to Salt Bore near Alice Springs for a period of rest and initial handling by TO’s.

June 28: 15 horses loaded at Salt Bore for transport to Victoria. 5 remained with TO’s.

Captured Waler horses in yards at Eddington Victoria

July 1: Horses arrive at Eddington, Victoria for initial sorting. What an emotional morning that was too, seeing them come off the truck. Relief at their safe arrival, distress at the amount of condition lost and number of scrapes and cuts collected on the way, anxiety about the next steps.

Food, water and rest priority one for now.

Five horses went to their new homes in Victoria from here.

July 10: Ten horses trucked to Millbrook, Victoria for more handling before being made available for collection by new owners in VIC, including one mare in foal who went to QLD.

July 25: Bess, Hale and Topsy loaded by Drew from Roseneath Performance horses into his 3 horse angle float (I went along too) and transported to Darraweit Guim. All were given their first 2in1 vaccination and wormed, and for a two-week period for initial handling Hale was put in a small yard within a larger yard where Topsy and Bess were left to roam. All had halters on with dangling string for ease of capture. Waler mare Mega and gelding Fisher looking on from neighbouring paddock, with stallion Virtuoso and gelding Enoch gawking from a bit further afield.

August 2: Well looks like bucket love has arrived. First time offered and the wild girls just went for it. Lots of lying down and sleeping, they are exhausted.

August 8: A big day for the new girls. Second vaccination, leading practice, and Hale left with Drew to start on her new adventures with Barb (who suspects Hale is also in foal). Bess now put into smaller yard for two weeks to assist with initial handling (catching, brushing, leading). Definitely looks like Topsy is in foal.

August 17: Topsy and Bess were SO pleased to see the sun today! As was I, very slippery and dangerous conditions for handling wild horses, for them and for me. Bess so sweet and shy (please don’t hurt me or even look at me), Topsy so hard-core and defiant (I will bite your arm off if you come near me). Am spending time with them three times daily, talking to them, picking up pooh, hand-feeding morning and night, with constant hay on hand. Catching Bess in her small yard and brushing her briefly.

August 22: Very pleased with the Territorians today! Drew gave them their final 2in1 vaccination and some solid groundwork this morning then over to me this arvo to catch & lead Bess in the big yard and catch and handle Topsy who is now in the small yard for her two-week stint. They were good as gold, well, as good as recently captured wild horses who have been on the steepest learning curve imaginable can be. And let’s not talk about the recent blizzards.

August 27: Sunshine today for the girls. Not quite the sunset they are used to but not bad.

September 2: A bit of sun for the Territorians today. And an adventure to another yard for Bess (which led to a few leaps of excitement) & selfie posing for both! A huge achievement.

September 5: Topsy now out in the big yard again with Bess.

September 6: Very Happy with the girls today. Caught, led, separated Twice! They are getting the hang of it. Lots of conversation from Topsy by way of nose-to-nose sniffing, thanking me for letting her into the big yard again. Bess met a small bit of the electric fence, drama over in 2 seconds, and still fine with walking past what bit her. Phew.

September 9: The Territorians are enjoying their green pick outings. Phew! They have only just started being interested in green grass, a rare find back on the home range.

September 13: So Mega and Fisher are still ignoring the Territory girls. ‘They are just wild horses’ is all they have to say to me. Yeah, like you two started out. Show some Respect!

September 14: Happy Territory girls. A sunny day. An evening bucket of feed. Toss-up between looking at the empty buckets, Virtuoso and Enoch who are now on the far hill, the moon, or the hay net.

I am so proud of the Territorians! Now three times for Bess in the paddock and Topsy in the laneway, and both still willing to be caught and led back to the yard. A slower process than catching them in the yard (especially Topsy) but not complaining! Good Progress. Sensible wild Waler girls.

September 17: Topsy & Bess on their late arvo adventures. Both are now OK to catch in the bigger spaces, might be another story once they get the hang of their freedom, we’ll see!

September 27: Finally got the nerve up to try Topsy loose in the bigger paddock. She’s rather her own girl, we manage but negotiation regularly required. So far so good, see what happens tomorrow.

October 4: Next step for the Territorians. No halter with dangling string. I have to get them to agree to be caught and have a halter put on. Day one, so far so good in the yard. Several hours in a paddock each morning and afternoon, working up to moving them out of the yard altogether. Progress. Such good girls, taking everything in their stride, and now loving the grass. Totally different to red sand and dry forage! So much for them to adapt to and learn, their brains must be full.

October 7: Onya Territory girls! A day spent in their paddocks, no halters, and no problem catching them to brush and work with them during the day then to bring them into the yard again for the night. Hooray for sensible Walers.

October 10: Well on a drizzly day when eating was sure to be the main thing on the agenda, Mega moved in with Topsy and Fisher moved in with Bess. Another milestone for the Territorians! Feeling the pressure of getting them into a big paddock before Topsy’s foal arrives, no idea of the due date but by the look of her, not far off.

October 11: First night for the Territorians spent in a paddock at my place. No more yard time other than when I bring them in to work with them or give them their late arvo bucket of feed. All quiet last night & happy horses this morning. Hooray!

October 15: More learning for the girls. Topsy finally got brave enough to check out the yard and shed attached to her paddock. And the ride on mowing caused some consternation.

October 23: Another milestone for the Territorians. First time today in a large paddock, back together and with 31 year-old Waler mare Mega keeping them in line. Onlookers in the next-door paddock are Waler geldings Fisher and Enoch and Waler mare Aria. Fisher started out as a wild horse in the Tanami desert NT but is a domesticated old hand now at approx 16, he is gazing on very sagely. Mega came from Garden Station NT as a youngster and is such an old campaigner, an amazing old lady, so lucky to have her help with the Territory Girls.

October 24: Mega and the Territorians were happy to be caught to come in for their morning bucket. Mega was too full of paddock goodies to finish hers so Topsy and Bess helped out.

October 31: Remembering the Battle of Beersheba, 102 years ago today. Lest we forget. And let’s also not forget the efforts made by many over the last 30 years or so to preserve the Waler horse breed to whom we owe such gratitude for their service. May the new Waler generations find a place in hearts and minds to secure their future.

And, welcome to old bloodline Waler filly foal Indi (a reference to nearby Indiana station, NT), safely delivered overnight into Monday 28 by her mum Topsy (reason for her and Bess’ name is here). Oh boy was I so relieved I had managed to get them safely into a big clean grassy paddock in time.

Waler mare Topsy with brand new filly foal Indi
Waler pony mare Hale with brand new colt foal Pinjee

November 4: Hale’s colt foal Pinjee (pronounced as Benjie) arrives. Barb did say after she visited newborn Indi a few days ago that Hale was probably due sooner than we thought, she certainly held her foal very well out of view! What a milestone for Walers, and thanks so much to Barb for getting involved.

Pinjee is a bore on Todd River Downs station, and Hale is the area in which TRD is located (named for the nearby Hale river).

(December 2020: Pinjee is now residing with me at Darraweit Guim with a view to keeping him entire to add to the diminishing gene pool).

Year 2020

January 14: Big day for the Territory Girls. I left the gate open so they could find their way up the laneway and out to the Very Big Paddock, which they duly and sneakily did. I noticed all was quiet in the yards where they had been fiddling with the remnants of their morning hay, and there they were, way in the distance. Happy horses accepted pats but said ‘we are busy right now’. Phew! Captured from the wild in the first week of June and now out in the big wide world of the front paddock.

March 7: The Territory Girls had a visitor with a dog today (Barb and Trudi). I did not expect them to be so curious, they came charging up to see what was what!

April 2: 28mm rain overnight, yippie! Girls wild in the rain, especially Indi. She just wants to roll in the mud, and the hay. Topsy & Bess are so tolerant, wonder how wild child will mature out?!

April 4: The first ANZAC Day for the Territory Girls with me is coming up. And the first year for my beautiful horse shoe poppies from Barb. And no public events thanks to COVID lockdowns.

So, I am starting early with Waler spam! Let’s celebrate their achievements and enjoy their company (as I do every day).

Here is Topsy’s foal, five-month old filly Indi enjoying meeting her first Remembrance poppy, a new generation to remind us of what has gone before.

Waler filly foal Indi looking at horseshoe poppy

April 13: Very pleased with Topsy I am! I’ve not done anything about picking up her feet due to her being in, and now with, foal. Bess and Indi pick up all their feet with no problems so I just thought I would see how Topsy went yesterday after she watched me pick up Indi’s feet as I do every day. Much to my amazement she lifted both front feet with no real hesitation. So today I tried again to see how she went, no problems picking up both front feet, twice! I think horses learn by watching others, no science to prove it just observation over the years. See what happens tomorrow!

April 20: I now know for sure that horses learn by watching others. I used my hoof pick again today with Bess & Indi all four feet. Then I did Topsy with it. All Four Feet! First time I have ever even attempted to pick up her back feet. She was totally cooperative, watchful but calm. I am delighted!

I told myself after the stress of their capture, initial handling & transport I would never use a rope on the Territory Girls (other than leading them). Never have, and now I hope to just continue picking up and cleaning out hooves as if they have been doing it all their lives. Howzat!

May 3: Topsy & Bess are good pals, just as long as Bess remembers the food is all for Topsy that is. Bess is Indi’s best mate. Indi always pushing in!

17 May: Indi & her pals Topsy & Bess on full alert this afternoon. There was some BIG problem in the distance they were worried about, like a mob of sheep being herded into a new paddock. Very wary of change these girls are.

Waler mares Bess and Topsy with filly foal Indi at dawn in a yard first morning at horse trainer property

June 2: The Territory Girls are all at boarding school with Drew, he loaded them all into his float yesterday and drove off, just like that. Sleepless nights for me!

June 5: Exactly a year on from capture and the Territory Girls are learning the finer elements of domestic horse citizenry. SO proud of their thoughtful and graceful approach to all things new!

June 8: The girls are making good progress at boarding school. Concentrating, and trying very hard. Thanks to my friend Sue I have a gorgeous photographic record of this important time for them. And sincere thanks to Drew at Roseneath Performance Horses for taking such care with the process and of the girls.

June 19: Bess & Topsy were saddled for the first time for their lessons today. Sensible Waler girls took it all in their stride.

July 25, 2020: A year today since the Territory Girls arrived at my farm. It’s been wonderful to participate in their transition to a domestic life, so much to experience and learn, and such grace and patience from them. First Bess, Topsy and Hale, and then foals Indi and Pinjee. Old bloodline Walers, old fashioned horses that once were part of almost every family in Australia. Lucky me!

Posted by Angela Tiede

Educator and Waler advocate and owner since 2006.