TAMING a brumby in 100 days is no easy task, but Wangaratta horse instructor Rachel Clarkson has done just that. Ms Clarkson, 25, spent three months building a relationship with Lil Rascal, given to her to tame by the Victorian Brumby Association.
Ms Clarkson, an entrant in the first Australian Brumby Challenge, will compete against 10 other trainers in the ridden section of a competition that ends this weekend at Upper Beaconsfield, 45 kilometres south east of Melbourne. The challenge is designed to show off the talents of brumbies that have been trained for 100 days.
“The brumby association passively traps them to clear them out of the national parks,” Ms Clarkson said. “That way, people aren’t shooting them. Some people think it’s better to cull them than waste time catching them. But this has been a great opportunity to show people just how good brumbies can be.”
Ms Clarkson said building a strong relationship with Lil Rascal had been important before even attempting to ride him. “It’s all about building his confidence, and getting him to trust my touch. Then it’s about getting him to trust me when I’m above him,” she said. “He’s still getting used to some things, because he’s never seen a lot of things before like cars and tractors. It was very foreign for him when he arrived, but you can see how calm he is now. You couldn’t get within 20 metres of him before he would try to jump out of the yard. Now he is so much more confident and is more trusting of humans.
“It was about 10 days in when I was able to ride him. I rode him bareback, so as not to introduce him to the saddle and stirrups first up. I wanted him to be confident about someone on his back before having all of the foreign objects on him as well.”
Ms Clarkson, who is a Parelli natural horsemanship instructor, said the secret to her success with Lil Rascal was an understanding of horse psychology.
“With the Parelli technique, it’s about being an equine behaviourist and understanding the nature and psychology of the horse,” Ms Clarkson said. “If we can understand them then we can better interact with them.”
Patience was also needed, despite the urge to take Lil Rascal out for rides. “The development process for the horse needs to be really quite natural for him,” Ms Clarkson said. “We’ll get his trust in an environment that he’s become used to, and then once that is really good, we get him to think about going for a trail ride or other experiments.
“A lot of the first two months was done just on the property here. In conventional training, you’d want to take him out for a ride straight away, but you just can’t do that
with a horse like this.”
The challenge, the first of its kind in Australia, is similar to America’s Mustang Makeover.
Ms Clarkson spent a few months in the US on a scholarship where she worked with some of the best trainers in the world. “I spent time in Reno, Nevada with a group of trainers who could ride wild mustangs within two days,” she said. “It’s all about knowing the horse and knowing when to back off, and when to progress forward. So, having that background has made this challenge, I wouldn’t say easier, but I’ve certainly got more knowledge on what to do and how to approach it.”
Ms Clarkson and Lil Rascal will be judged on horsemanship, confidence, and how well the brumby can manoeuvre over and around objects in Saturday’s final.
“They’re asking a lot for horses that were completely wild just 100 days ago,” she said.
“Now they’re asking them to complete tasks that can take regular horses six to 12 months to learn. “It will be a really good showcase of brumby talents. Several different training techniques have been used, so it’ll be really good to see how each one has panned out.”
After the competition, each of the brumbies will be auctioned to bidders who have been pre-approved.
“I’ll be sad to see him go,” Ms Clarkson said. “I’ve spent all this time starting a relationship with him — he waits at the gate for me and is always wondering where I am. “He’s a really playful horse as well, and a little bit mischievous. “People may not read that right and think he’s being naughty but, in reality, he’s just having a bit of a play – “He’s a great little horse.”