Friday, September 30, 2011

Gratitude for what we have!

so much joy from horses over the years!

Horse riding (or just being around horses – which I love just as much!) has been put on the shelf for a time. Usually this would be a cause for unhappiness or brow-beating (why don’t you just get out there, girl!?). At the moment it’s because I’ve just had a lovely baby boy. I’m up with him quite a lot at night and he’s also feeding often during the day. I just don’t have much extra energy or time. It’s easy to feel sorry for yourself when you can’t do one of the things that gives you the most joy – a thing that is just for you. But when this feeling starts to creep in I have the perfect antidote.

Will was born in only five hours. One of the possible downsides of such a quick delivery was that he wasn’t quite in the right position. But who knows – he might have come out that way anyway! He emerged with a huge bruise on his head, which led to early jaundice followed by low heart rate and episodes of apnea. He stayed in the Neonatal Unit for a week, and we stayed with him – wondering at times if he was going to make it through. He’s home now and growing at a record rate. But I keep remembering a little bouquet of flowers on the desk at the unit. It thanked the doctors and nurses for all their care and listed the dates of their little baby – a period of life of only a few weeks.

It might sound extreme, but when I am up at three feeding Will and feeling exhausted, or when I think how much I would love to run away and just be with the horses (oh, lie on my back and hear them tearing up the grass!), I simply remember how it felt when we thought we might lose him. It’s suddenly a blessing to be able to hold him and feed him through the night and to care for him when he’s fussing and doesn’t want to go back to sleep. Yes, sometimes I’m tired and emotional, but it’s so worth it. And I’m more than happy to wait to get back to the world of horses. They’ve been around for centuries and they’re not going anywhere soon.

In the last two of my short walks down our street (feeling a huge sense of achievement for just leaving the house), I’ve seen a horse go by in a float. It’s like a little reminder that they are waiting for me. (Though if the ‘Secret’ really worked, I’m pretty sure there’d be a herd of them in my backyard, trampling the garden beds). I’m lucky to have a wonderful husband who I know will help me get back in to riding, and I’m already feeling more ambitious about it and making mental plans to do more jumping and to challenge myself a bit more.

I’ve always known there are times in our lives when we have to step back from our passions, but now I realise that sometimes we can be hugely grateful for that. Having no extra time or energy is a tiny price to pay for bringing a beautiful little child into the world. I can always draw some imaginary horses in the mean time. Yes, my sketch book and pencil are nearby, I just can’t seem to pick them up yet!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Australian Horses Series no. 2: Colonial Arabian

I did mean to write this post a little earlier, but was interrupted by the arrival of our beautiful little boy, Will. He decided to give us a scare and stayed in the hospital in intensive care for a week, but is now very well. My first question for the physio - how long can you ride after an episiotomy?  They looked a bit surprised that I would even be daydreaming about something so uncomfortable ...

‘Colonial Arabian’ describes those Arabians (mostly Crabbet bloodlines) sent to the colonies. Some of these bloodlines are still bred today. The Australian colonial Arabian is very tough and well-suited to endurance. They should have good solid bone and their beauty is on the elegant and tough side rather than the hyper-pretty (in my opinion!). To use an Americanism, they are very far from being all hat and no cattle. The first Arabians arrived in Australia very early, along with the first European settlers and are beautifully suited to the hot Australian conditions and our love of riding out in the bush. I always love to be handed the reins of an Arabian type on a long trail ride – you are pretty much guaranteed a smooth, responsive, untiring ride, and they might like to go googly-eyed at things from time to time – but that just adds to the spirit!

I always loved seeing photos of the stallion Fenwick Phantom as a teenager and he’s what I picture when I think of an Australian Arabian type. Check out those clean, powerful legs!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Australian Horses Series no. 1: The Waler

For a long time I’ve been meaning to do a series of paintings honouring Australian horses (both ‘types’ and breeds).

Thanks to the Morpurgo book War Horse and the stage adaptation and now film adaptation, the war horse is taking centre stage at the moment. Although many types of horse fitting cavalry specifications for height and colouration were sent over from Australia during the First World War (and to also to India), the dominant type became known as the ‘Waler’ (the original stock came from New South Wales). 
'Waler' permanent artist's ink on watercolour paper

Much like the Australian Stockhorse (which it had a large influence on) the Waler was a mixture of Thoroughbred, Arab and draught breeds, resulting in a very tough and reliable horse, much as the stock horse is described in Patterson’s Man from Snowy River:

And one was there, a stripling on a small and weedy beast / He was something like a racehorse undersized / With a touch of Timor pony - three parts thoroughbred at least - And such as are by mountain horsemen prized. / He was hard and tough and wiry - just the sort that won't say die / There was courage in his quick impatient tread / And he bore the badge of gameness in his bright and fiery eye/ And the proud and lofty carriage of his head.

An English cavalry officer described the Australian horses’ suitability for harsh conditions:
“… The majority of horses in the Corps were Walers and there is no doubt that these hardy Australian horses make the finest cavalry mounts in the world…. They have got types of compact, well-built, saddle and harness horses that no other part of the world can show. Rather on the light side according to our ideas, but hard as nails and with beautiful clean legs and feet ... Their records in this war place them far above the Cavalry horse of any other nation.”
Lt Col RMP Preston DSO, The Desert Mounted Corps

The Charge of the Light Horse at Beersheba, George Lambert
Beersheba (1917) was probably one of the most famous moments for the Australian cavalry. After going for days without water through the Sinai Desert, the Australian Light Horse charged the Turkish guns at a lengthy gallop and successfully took Beersheba (and its essential water supplies). It was one of the last great cavalry charges as increasingly mechanised forms of warfare saw the increasing (fortunate) removal of horses from the front line of battle.

Sadly, despite their impressive service, no adequate provision was made for the return of the Australian or British horses to their country of origin. Many heartbroken soldiers were forced to abandon their horses, or to shoot them (amidst fears they would be mistreated).
Australian troop horse, full marching order 1918, George Lambert

In 1931, Dorothy Brooke (the wife of an English cavalry officer) wrote an appeal to the Morning Post regarding British cavalry mounts:

“There have been several references lately in the columns of The Morning Post as to the possibility of raising a memorial to horses killed in the War. May I make a suggestion?

Out here, in Egypt, there are still many hundreds of old Army Horses sold of necessity at the cessation of the War. They are all over twenty years of age by now, and to say that the majority of them have fallen on hard times is to express it very mildly … If those who truly love horses – who realise what it can mean to be very old, very hungry and thirsty, and very tired, in a country where hard, ceaseless work has to be done in great heat – will send contributions to help in giving a merciful end to our poor old war heroes, we shall be extremely grateful; and we venture to think that, in many ways, this may be as fitting (though unspectacular) part of a War Memorial as any other that could be devised.”

Her appeal soon raised enough funds to rescue five thousand horses and gave rise to The Brooke, a charity still providing welfare support for working donkeys, horses and mules whose owners often cannot afford to treat them.

Given that Australian cavalry mounts did not return to their country, the breeding of Waler horses has relied on the use of the original stock that remained in Australia. Waler horse breeders seek to preserve the tough and reliable characteristics of those famous Australian cavalry horses.

Speaking of tough, next week (my imminent baby allowing) will be no. 2 in the Australian Horses Series – the Colonial Arabian.

Read about The Brooke:
The Desert Mounted Corps quote accessed at:
Waler Horse Society of Australia:
The Waler Horse Owners & Breeders Association Australia: