by Charlotte Pordage


It’s not often wild horses venture into Melbourne’s inner north but between 17-20 November, 27 Brumbies took up residence at the Melbourne Showgrounds.


Each Brumby was competing in the finale of the 2016 Australian Brumby Challenge, an event held in conjunction with the four day equestrian extravaganza Equitana.


The Australian Brumby Challenge takes totally wild Brumbies, passively trapped as part of an ongoing National Park Management program, from the High Country of Victoria and Southern New South Wales.


Unhandled and untrained, each horse is then allocated to a trainer, who has 150 days to tame their Brumby before presenting their partnership to the public and judges at Equitana.


“Trainers regularly keep fans up to date with blogs on the website and social media, so everyone has a chance to learn about each animal’s personality, quirks and habits through the voice of their trainer”, said President of the Victorian Brumby Association Colleen O’Brian, whose organisation developed the Challenge.


Only brumbies aged four and older are saddle trained and eligible for the Ridden Challenge, with Brumbies aged one year or less able to take part in the Youngster Challenge, where they are presented in hand only, not started under saddle or sat on.


The Northsider spoke to one of the competitors, professional trainer and natural hoof care practitioner Tanya French, during Equitana to find out more about the aims of the Challenge.


“The idea is to show how quiet and trainable they are. The fact that they’ve only had 150 days training and are now in the city, they’re really really smart. They problem solve more than domestic horses, because they’ve lived in the wild and had to find their own food and find their own water. They think things through more than domestic horses because it hasn’t been handed to them on a plate”, she said.


Tanya’s partner was VBA Khancoban (aka Coby), a one year old gelding who was conceived in the wild and born at the Brumby Junction sanctuary, located in Glenlogie, Victoria, after his mother, VBA Tallara’s capture.


Tanya’s main training method is clicker training, which uses positive reinforcement to reward the horse for doing the correct thing. Traditional horse training methods are based on a pressure and release system, where pressure is applied to the horse and taken off once the horse has offered the desired result. If the horse doesn’t respond to the initial pressure or resists, further pressure is applied until the horse alleviates its discomfort by producing the behaviour the trainer is after.


“It’s quite easy with that method to get a horse to stand calmly because it doesn’t really like the alternative. With this [clicker training], you have to be really creative. Today [November 18] I wanted Coby to concentrate on something else other than worrying about the crowd so I had a stick with a sponge on the end. Each time he touched the stick with his nose, I clicked and gave him some food, so rather then worrying about the crowd, the idea was that he just sought out the stick and tried to follow and touch it”, she said.


This year, first place in the Ridden Challenge went to Rachel Clarkson and VBA Maximus, while first place in the Youngster Challenge was awarded to Samantha McCallum and VBA Thor.


Although Tanya didn’t place, she was the winner of the Youngster Challenge at the last Australian Brumby Challenge in 2014.


At the end of the Challenge, trainers have the opportunity to give their partners a forever home or offer the horse for sale in a pre-approved auction that takes place on the final day of Equitana. Coby and Tanya will have already returned to her Yarra Ranges property together.


The Victorian Brumby Association was formed in 2007 after several years of informal Brumby rescue. The association continues to rescue and rehoming of wild Brumbies, as well as working with local, state and federal government organisations such as Parks Victoria and National Parks and Wildlife Association in New South Wales, to develop humane, sustainable and effective management systems and educating the general public on the ability of brumbies to successfully transition to domestic life.


Equitana is an event for horse enthusiasts of all ages, featuring world class competition, displays, clinics and lectures. Attendees can see and learn about over 23 different equestrian disciplines, including dressage, showjumping, eventing, reining, cutting and barrel racing, and get up and personal with a variety of horse breeds.


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