Love and Loss on the Land

Everybody knows that as rewarding as life on the land is, you have to deal with death more often than folks in the city. Whether a dog gets trampled while working cattle, or a horse breaks a leg, there is always a chance something will go wrong.

It is a year ago this month that I lost two of the most loved animals I’ve ever had – both in the same week. Even after a year it is still hard to write about them, let alone talk about them in person. Although I am usually trying to put a funny twist on my adventures, I thought I’d share this story – mainly cause they were so beautiful I just want to share their photos!

Just before Christmas 2011, Jackaroo and my second Christmas together, he took me shopping to get me a Christmas present. After suggesting a couple of things that I wouldn’t mind receiving from him, he decided he didn’t like any of them and we went home empty handed. I was devastated, thinking that I wouldn’t be getting a Christmas present from him. ‘Worst Christmas ever!’, I thought, moping around. I had spent weeks looking for the perfect gift for him. Anyway, when I woke up Christmas morning, he was jollier than I expected. I walk into the kitchen to get some breakfast. Jackaroo walks up to me with his hands behind his back, his eyes sparkling. He passes me a plain envelope. I open it up, inside is a registration certificate for a beautiful little red dun Australian Stock Horse filly that had been born a month earlier on the property. I literally jumped up and down and cried, just about suffocating him with my hugs. She was the most beautiful foal I’d ever seen, and I had spent a lot of time down the paddock just sitting and watching her eat. She was the best present I have ever received and I named her Warratah, after the red native Australian flower. For those of you who have never seen a red dun coloured horse, they are similar to a normal dun in the way that they have the dorsal stripe, darker coloured points and stripes on their legs – but they are red!

Warratah was smart, and I loved hanging out with her down the paddock. When it came time to halter break her, I was very excited! I had high hopes for this little girl. She was in the yards for about a week, getting taught to pick her feet up and tie up without pulling back. After we were satisfied that she and the 7 other 2011 foals were handled enough, we led them down to the improved pasture, so that they could grow big and strong so that one day we would be able to break them in and ride them.

Warratah, my Christmas present on Christmas Day.
Warratah at about 6 months old.
Warratah at about 6 months old.

A couple of months later, Jackaroo and I went to look at some dogs. They were 3/4 Border Collie and 1/4 Kelpie. As always, they were adorable! We picked up 3 boys – a blue and white for a friend, a black and white pup for Jackaroo and a chocolate tri-colour for me. My pup was a handsome and smart little fella, with one green eye and one blue eye. I’m a sucker for different coloured eyes (even Jackaroo has different coloured eyes)! When we got home I spent days deliberating what to name my pup. One day I was singing the theme song to a tv show that was on when I was a kid – FeralTv. I ended up naming my pup Rattus, after one of the characters. It suited him perfectly, due to his intelligence he was always up to no good and we got along great! I got Rattus when I still lived in town, not on the farm. This was also a time when Jackaroo was working away on cattle stations for stints of 6-8 weeks, coming home for a week and then leaving again. I took him everywhere with me. He helped with the loneliness of living in a town without my family or partner. I taught him many tricks, and by the time Jackaroo came home after the first 8 weeks he could sit, shake, drop, hop up and I could send him off about 10m away from me, make a hoop with my arms and he would leap through them. He was my best friend.

Rattus and I head for a station about 10hrs South West of here.
Rattus and I head for a station about 10hrs South West of here.
My beautiful boy, Rattus.
My beautiful boy, Rattus.

Now for the sad bit… The first tragedy was with Rattus. He was looking off one day, and was off his food. I didn’t think much of it, as with humans, sometimes things just don’t agree with your stomach. The next morning I went outside to check on Rattus. I called and called him, could not find him anywhere. I finally find him, still alive but very weak and bleeding from both ends – which was attracting ants. He tried to hobble over to me and I burst into tears then yelled to Jackaroo, who quickly collected his gun and took Rattus out of my earshot to put him out of his misery. We suspect that he had either eaten some dingo bait or rat bait. Although we had not baited for dingos, the worst trouble is that sometimes birds will pick up a piece of meat that has been baited for dingos and drop it into your yards. The love that he had in his eyes, despite being in so much pain is something that I’ll never get over. RIP Rattus.

A week later, Warratah and her brothers and sisters went through a fence. Being so young, when something spooks them they just float like a flock of birds. All of the foals had a few scratches but only 3 of the 8 were bad enough to require medical attention, and another one which I could handle. Mowgli had cut his leg down to the bone, Upendi had skull showing and a huge gash on her knee and Justice had a chest puncture. Warratah, however, was unable to be fixed. She had slashed her eye in half. It was so sore, and made my eyes water when I looked at her. Unfortunately, she wouldn’t have been worth much as a broodmare, not that I could afford the operation to have her eye anyway. Jackaroo was working away on a station at this time, but I called him for advice and he organised his brother to ‘take care’ of Warratah for me. He took her down the paddock and put her out of her misery. I hid down another paddock, found a nice spot by a dam and cried for hours. I’m very lucky to be building a relationship with another beautiful filly, Perserverence. Warratah will always hold a special part in my heart though. RIP Warratah.

On the Catwalk

I better quickly explain my joke. (Yes I made a funny!) The ‘catwalk’ is a part of many larger cattle yards – mainly saleyards etc where you can walk above the yards checking out the cattle – in one of my last posts you can see one in the photos I took at the sales. I can guarantee you won’t see Elle McPherson walking one of these…

Back to the point… I was browsing through my photos yesterday and came across this photo of me, on one of our mares, Cnedra (aka Neddie – don’t ask me where Cnedra came from!). It was a little while back, and if I remember correctly, we had been looking for some clean skins (unbranded cattle) for hours. This is a terrible picture her, but Neddie is a really beautiful Australian Stock Horse mare. She is currently in foal, due in November, and I can’t wait to see how her foal turns out. I’ll definitely be putting photos up of the foals later in the year!

Anyway, I thought I’d share this photo as it seems some of you like these glimpses into my world. Especially since I follow a fair few equine blogs – some of the pictures I see of manicured horses, and their equally manicured riders put me to shame! When you’re working on a station, or out mustering cattle there isn’t much style about it, just comfort. This photo of me is actually pretty good compared to the other things I rock the paddocks in. The shirt, although a hand-me-down from Jackaroo, has no rips in it and isn’t white from sun-bleaching yet, surprisingly, neither are the jeans. Might’ve been trying to dress up a bit, you know for Jackaroo. Haha!

Jillaroo Jess on Neddie
Jillaroo Jess on Neddie, with Gun the blue dog.