RON KERR – reminiscences of a working drover
Following received February 2006
To answer your question about the word ‘plant’ – The plant consists of everything a drover needs to shift a mob of cattle. Some mobs are from 1000 to 1500 head, with a value from $50,000 to $500,000. Very few station s will let a drover use their yard due to a ‘rush’ (stampede) as this could leave the yards flat on the ground or $2000 to $3000 to rebuild – so the drovers have to ‘night watch’ from dark to daylight. A mob the above size would need at least 4 men, a horse trailer, five horses and a cook. The ‘horse tailor’ would do the first watch, as he has to get the horses ready in the morning at daybreak. There are usually five watch sessions so everyone does about two and a half hours per night. The cattle feed along a strip of about 8 to 10 miles per day, longer if watering points between bores – but sometime there’s two days walk between watering points. Most drovers’ plants consist of a minimum of 40 head of horses and ringers (horse men) to handle the size of the mob. Cattle might be walking for 6 to 12 weeks on the road and stock routes.
Horse breaking. (I had asked about ‘horse whispering’). Yes, I do talk to horses when I am breaking them in or shoeing. The thing is to keep the tone of the voice at the one level and only speak sharply if the horse tries to bite or kick. Plus you work all over the horse from both sides, picking up feet and patting goes a long way. Always approach a horse steady and from the front and always look them in the eyes. The ears and eyes tell you how he is taking the handling. Let the horse smell your hand once he has lost the fear o man you should start with a bagging down – use a bag – wave it around the legs, lightly touching the horse all over – he soon becomes used to it and you cannot over do this bagging down as this is similar to what goes through for the rest of his life when catching and saddling up.
I’ve had young brumby bucks come in the horse plant while droving rather than shoot them. I’ve had the horse tailor drive the horses under a tree I was sitting in with a strong rope for the horse’s head. When the brumby comes under where I was sitting – with the end of the rope tied to the tree – I drop the loop over his head and when the horse chokes down we slap a sideline on him. A side line is made up with two hobble chains joined together, one strap on the front and one on the hind – both on the same side which gives the name ‘side line’ the horse can walk along with the plant horses but will stumble if he tries to go faster. This makes him easy to drive along with the other horses and he can be roped off back for handling, taught to be tied up at the next camp – still in side line – the ‘mouthing’ is done the next day while the horse tailor is driving the loose horses along without any gear on – only the side line – which makes enables him to eat grass and drink. This takes any sourness out of the brumby. With the brumby off his own country he is easier to handle plus he gets used to men catching and riding horses. Around this time he is ready for his first ride so the side line comes off plus his mouth has regained its feeling. I have never asked a man to ride a horse that I have never ridden myself and having no yard to ride the colt in I get onto the horse with a bag over its head and in the middle of the rest of the horses. I take him for a short ride to the dinner camp, driven along with the loose horses by the horse tailor. After a couple of rides this way the colt can be ridden along with the horse tailor for company and then it’s not long before he becomes one of the plant horses. The patting and talking and slapping of the saddle flap are all part of the breaking in.
Your other question about drovers being superstitious – there are too many ifs and buts in the droving job to have time to be superstitious and a good buster from a horse would break any lucky charms. Most horsemen won’t wear rings on their hands or wristwatch as the mane hair of the horse can tangle in a ring or watch and break a finger. I’ve seen too the hand or fingers hang up blokes. A pocket watch is much safer and most blokes wear a watch on their belt.
IN THIS SECTION:
- Working Drover
- Water Tank Literature
- Last droving trip
- Life as a Drover
- Further Correspondence
POETRY FROM RON KERR