IT’S the issue that has divided the high country community of the Snowy Mountains, but one man and his daughter are putting the wild horses of Kosciuszko National Park to good use.
Joe Hughes and his daughter Lauren are the main trainers at 4BP Horses, based on the 77,000-hectare property “Belarabon”, south west of Cobar.
Mr Hughes has been training horses since he was a teenager, growing up on a station in North East South Australia.
“We had a lot of freedom as kids – we could do whatever we wanted as long as we were home in time for dinner, so we spent our time on horses.”
By 13, he’d trained three horses for the station, before heading to school in Broken Hill.
After four years boarding in the outback city he went back to station life, working in Australia and Canada.
His whole life has revolved around horses, but the fine-tuning of his training methods – the basis for 4BP Horses – came after a motorbike accident.
“We were going away, so the car was packed,” Mr Hughes said.
“I had to do one last job running the weaners out and hit a big rock on the road. I snapped my back, crushed my chest, broke both hands, had a collapsed lung and bruised my brain. We weren’t sure if I’d walk again and I realised that I’d spent my life on horses and with cattle, but I hadn’t passed on that knowledge to my children.
“I’d always planned to fine-tune the training methods I’d been using for the past 20 years but never had the time. It took about nine months to get over my injuries, so I taught the kids to train four horses while I was still in my frame.”
Those months were the start of a revolutionary training system.
“We train a horse with nothing, just our body, our presence, using a method of trust,” he said.
“We spend time in the yard with them, walking near them, then asking them to come near us. I can get a horse following me around the yard in 30 minutes, because once they realise you’re not a threat to them, they let you in.”
The family’s work with brumbies began in June.
“We’d heard a bit about the Kosciuszko horse cull and people taking horses out of the mountains,” Mr Hughes said.
“I initially thought I wouldn’t mind getting a few for breeders, but when I started researching what was happening, I was organising a pick up.
We weren’t sure if I’d walk again and I realised that I’d spent my life on horses and with cattle, but I hadn’t passed on that knowledge to my children
“The only answer any brumby group has is to see horses stay there, but there’s been an explosion in numbers. We’re only pulling 300 to 400 horses out each year, but if you’ve got 1500 to 3000 mares breeding each year, that’s no way to reduce numbers.
“If I can train them and sell them, or give them to groups in need, and train others to take on brumbies, we can put them to good use.
“We’ve got 3000 brumbies to come out in the first 10 years, so instead of me taking on 500 horses a year, I could be training others, who could then pass on the knowledge to more people.
“I’m willing to do the training for free just to get it going.”
Mr Hughes has taken about 50 horses out of the park in the past few months, and checks in with national parks employees each week.
“They trap horses in yards and invite groups to load them. Most groups just take the foals and send the older horses to slaughter, and I think we’re still the only ones taking mature horses and we’re even taking the stallions.”
All wild horses are trained to ride with and without a saddle, and many of them without a bridle, creating “rock-solid and bombproof” horses.
“For the last couple of years I’ve wanted to do some kind of equine therapy for returned servicemen and work with Riding for Disabled Associations, and we’ve started to make those links now.
All four kids – Isla, 19, Lauren, 17, Grace, 16, and Henry, 15 – ride, but the right-hand girl is Lauren, who’s working at home while studying her Certificate III in Agriculture through Dubbo TAFE
“She has her own fan club,” he said.
“Lauren has been training horse for 10 years and hasn’t known any other way of training, so she doesn’t have any bad habits.
“Whenever Grace is home she’s training. They pick their favourites and lay dibs on who’s going to have what to train in the holidays.”
The family plans to hold its first weekly online auction through the Facebook group next week.
Mr Hughes also wants to train horses for free for charity groups.
“They’re very quiet horses,” he said.
“We put a lot of emphasis on all the ground work, which stays with the horse. We teach a horse to turn in first few minutes in the yard so by the stage when get to jumping on its back after one-and-a-half hours, they know what to do.”
Mr Hughes said he’d recommend many of the horses for competition.
“I’ve got Quarter Horses and the horses coming out of mountains are just as quick.”
- For more details on the auction, visit www.facebook.com/BelarabonStation