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This is a copy of my submission to the 2023 Australian Senate enquiry on the Impacts and Management of Feral Horses in the Australian Alps. This time I took a bit of a different approach:

I could do a submission here on my thoughts for the impacts that the brumbies may or may not have on our environment, the relativity of these said impacts, or even their heritage value in building colonial Australia, but human nature being as it is, I think I’ll just tell you my story and the impacts brumbies have had on me in past 15 or so years.

How can I possibly put a value on my Brumbies? To me they have no value or financial worth, they are not a possession to be had, and yet you could not put a value high enough to equal the impression they have made.

This is a path that I’ve been on since 2007, it has been kind rocky and has had lots of twists and turns and a few road blocks but here I am still forging along. I’ve tried to step off it more than a few times, about walking away from Brumbies. Of giving up, just doing my own thing, putting the blinkers on, and feeling like there is no hope. It’s certainly been an emotional roller coaster. I think we can all relate for one cause or another that may be passionate to us.

There is certainly a passion that revolves around animal rescue that can bring out both the best and sometimes the worst in generally decent people, which is kind of crazy but I think it comes down to an amount of frustration, of feeling helpless, of seeming like you are shouting from the rooftop at the top of your voice and still no one is listening. Sometimes life is unjust and unfair and that can be hard to accept.

Anyway, how many times have I tried to walk away? A countless number of times… but here I am sharing my story again, perhaps from a little bit of a different perspective as I’ve done a few k’s since I first started telling it, and because after all, we are the brumby’s voice.

Brumbies get into your heart and soul, I can’t really explain it but if you’ve done a good job with any horse you probably know what I mean.

empathy, honesty, persistence, patience, direction, consistency, self motivation, solution orientated, calmness under stress, commitment, kindness, authenticity

These all values we admire in others, strive for in ourselves and try to cultivate in our children. They are also the traits of a good horseman, an excellent horseman in fact!

15 years ago I was given a great gift that helped me to recreate myself, to challenge my values and the beliefs in whom I was, who I could become and the expectations of what I could achieve. I didn’t find it on my bookshelf, although there are many self help books lined up there, it wasn’t with a personal development/life coach – well not like you think anyway, or an expensive success guru.

She was a brumby, and her name is Aurora.

Aurora – the ancient Roman goddess of dawn “ She certainly was the start of a new day in my world!

‘”Brumbies looking for homes” Open Day, Victorian Brumby Association” - or something to that effect was how the Weekly Times ad read. It was by pure chance that I even picked up the paper that day. Man I was green! Super green, when I rocked up that day to see a huddle of unhandled brumbies in a yard. I felt I had to do something, to contribute somehow.

They’d had a rough time before being rescued and had some very sad stories. There was Aurora, poking her nose around the rump of another very wary brumby. It was months before she came home, she had some challenges and it was early days in the Brumby rehoming world. Then the learning started for both of us! She has turned me into a pretty fine horseman, which considering my lack of early childhood experiences with horses is amazing – or maybe its not, I didn’t have any baggage, I was a clean slate for her to mould and teach. Next to that, I’m doggedly determined and I knew these little horses had a story to tell. I wont gloss over the fact its been hard, bloody hard work, lots of tears, more than a few bruises and a lot of time and effort in studying and learning all about conscious practice. I’m no one special, anyone can achieve what I have but its not easy that’s for sure and I am nowhere near where I want to be, not yet anyway.

Rors and I have had a fantastic time together, and she is the horse love of my life. Yes she is smallish – well, yes, ok small at 13.2 hands, just a pony but she is strong and stoic and resilient and doesn’t take crap from anyone. She is confident and smart, we make a great team and we are brave together.

Without her I certainly wouldn’t have taken on Melbourne traffic and trams to ride her down Spring Street, or stand on the steps of Parliament House. Oh and did I mention we didn’t ride with a bridle and there were no horse shoes clacking down the street. I probably wouldn’t have participated in demos and talks at Equitana, purely there to defend the Brumbies. I wouldn’t have gone on to showcase other Brumbies at Equitana, been to shows and competitions, had trade stands or learnt to float my horses on long road trips around the state or between Victoria, NSW and Queensland. Previously the only floating I had done was by my husband, between agistment properties - and he definitely did all the driving!

Together Aurora and I have learnt some really cool skills, ridden bridle–less, bareback, jumped, galloped and done liberty work. Without her I would have missed the breathtaking experience of riding my little Mountain Brumby back up into her past home range, where the sky is vast and bluer than you would ever imagine, the air is clean and crisp and you can be a drowned rat one minute and sweltering in the heat the next!

She has lots of admirers and fans and I’m pretty sure she has been an awesome ambassador for Brumbies everywhere.

So you see, wild horses have a great role to play. They have great potential to teach us how to be better at who we are, much better versions of ourselves, of how to strive to play a better role in humanity and how to be more respectful of this amazing planet we share. They show us up for all our short-comings and demand we step up and become better versions of ourselves. Of course all horses can do this but wild horses are more in-tuned, and they wont take on board any of your drama.

In fact everything our horses do, the personality traits they develop, their behaviours and their responses are a direct reflection of who we are. Add to that the fact that brumbies, and wild horses generally, wont cut the slack that many of their domestic cousins have learnt to, and they can just about turn anyone into a pretty decent human being if they are willing to accept change and be honest with themselves.

Now you might just think this is all just a crazy bit of horsey girl hoo-hah but I would invite anyone to come along and spend an afternoon with a brumby and tell me otherwise.

This is just my story on how a Brumby has had an impact on me, but they can teach us how to develop those above values I listed earlier that we want to achieve, and how to be honest with ourselves about our beliefs. These untrained, wild horses have a great capacity to help troubled individuals to learn responsibility, empathy and self control, just as they have been in many successful programs running in the US for the past 40 years. (US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs)

So please take the opportunity to support all of those that value the lives of these horses. The rescue organisations, the volunteers, the sanctuaries, and the re-homers. Help them to help the brumbies and to give them the value they deserve.

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Personal space can be a big issue can't it.

Ever seen that person banging on their halter or lead rope to get their horse out of their space? Only to have the horse throw its head in the air but not actually move its feet? Looks ugly doesn't it.. Yes, there is a better way.

Horses are all about consistency, so if one minute you're not paying attention and you've allowed your horse into your personal space, but then a couple of minutes later you are banging on that lead rope and halter to back them out of your space, maybe you can see why that might seem confusing to them. This is a fairly obvious example, but there can be many subtle weight shifts while you're not paying attention that can mean the same thing. This is just the sort of inconsistency that will put big holes in your leadership and draw on your rapport bank big time.

If you are consistent all the time on your personal space, your horse firstly will be more relaxed and if you do need to 'get him out of your space' you'll be able to do it in a quiet and confident way, without getting loud and big and without any pushing or throwing around of heads.

It can be confusing. What if I allow more horse in so I can give him a smooch and just enjoy him being there? Nothing wrong with that, just be aware you've allowed him in - on your terms.

How about when my horse keeps walking over the top of me when Im leading him, or maybe just poking his shoulder at me at feed time? You know that horse that 'almost' steps on your toes.. There's a lot wrong with that, and potentially just downright dangerous. If your horse is pushing on your space here, chances are he's pushing thru your leg in the saddle, has more whoah than go, or no brakes, blows out on your patterns and heavy on the reins or refuses to go into the float. None of these are because your horse is out to annoy or frustrate you. But he is asking you, if not pleading with you to step up and be a better leader and to lead with consistency. Horses are by nature easy going, go with flow creatures but they do demand good leadership. Its kept their species alive for a very long time, so if they feel you're not up to the task they will let you know it and step up to that spot themselves.

I quite often see young brumbies leaning on their handlers personal space and being pushy, particularly when they are in a situation where they are looking for good leadership, needing someone else to step up. Horses start practicing this with each other at a very early age. If you watch yearlings playing you'll see them jostling each other as they practice positioning themselves within the herd. They are very good at it and can be very subtle!

Know before hand what you are willing to allow or not allow and draw that line in the sand, and do it right now. This will make you clearer in your expectations to your horse and your consistency. Take the time to do some pondering before picking up that lead rope and heading out to your horse. There's a load of questions you can ask yourself: What am I wishing to achieve today? What are my expectations of my horse? What am I releasing on? Where are my boundaries? How can I be clearer?

Remember too, that a horse is still just a horse so they may have off days, or be influenced more by their surroundings, which may move the bar on what you achieve for the day but never your boundaries. You will find that the better you get with these, the less those outside influences will determine how your horse behaves as his confidence grows in your leadership and himself.

Awareness is the first step, but there are also lots of cool tasks you can do with your horse to help you be more consistent with your personal space bubble. Just add them into your daily routine, be consistent and before you know it you'll be on the way to having a less pushy horse. Let me pre warn you though, if you've been allowing your horse to push on your space, it may take some practice to change that mindset so be patient but stick with it, don't be afraid to step up!

So I guess my whole point is put a priority on being more conscious of your boundaries including your personal space and by making it part of how you behave around your horse, you will be more consistent in where you draw the line and soon you'll be able to do so quietly and quickly without all the big phases or emotion. And it will keep you safe!

Keep smiling ;)

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