Soft spot for Bessie

By Country News

In the 1970s, a farm horse was something of a relic when the step-through automatic clutch Honda 90s were making a big impact.

But we continued to use our beloved chestnut mare, Bessie, to check on the irrigation, round up cattle and entertain farm visitors.

Never having been schooled in the fine points of horsemanship, I simply rode her bareback and, if the necessity arose, without any reins.

Just the right pressure of the knees or a voice command could turn her, urge her forward or stop her.

The level of mutual trust was quite a remarkable experience.

The one time I can remember riding her with a saddle was not something that I wanted to repeat.

I was about 12 (and bullet-proof) and although warned how she would behave as a stockhorse should, I disregarded the advice and pushed her forward to the herd.

She quickly identified the cow that had to be separated, sprung to a gallop in one leap, stopped in her own length and turned on the spot to effectively cut off the beast.

I had clung on in sheer terror, because no amount of shouting or yanking on the reins seemed to have any effect, and for every moment I was in fear of tumbling to the ground.

When not cutting cattle she was a very placid animal.

She put up with childish pranks and suffered the hot, still summers when I threw a shovel over my shoulder and trotted around the irrigation.

Bessie also had a healthy respect for snakes.

Once, while riding along the heavily grassed roadside on the way to our neighbours, she halted and refused to push ahead.

I urged her on and became annoyed when it was clear she would not move forward and instead pranced about like a ballerina.

Eventually, I discovered the only way to continue the journey was to cross the road — and it was a few metres further on when I saw the dark-coloured snake, slithering off through the fence.

It was Bessie’s nurturing nature that eventually led to her death.

She was separated from her foal, and she had worked herself into a state of agitated exhaustion after running continuously around the paddock.

The vet predicted an agonising death was only hours away when the decision was made to put her down.

I once spent an hour with an old farmer, Lloyd Griffiths, who worked with horses on his Wyuna farm in the 1930s.

Sifting through his photo albums, it became obvious that most of the pictures featured the strong draught horses pulling all types of machinery and implements.

Despite carrying an injury inflicted by a horse for most of his life, Lloyd had a high regard for the animals.