You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.
But a horse does know its way home. Just ask Bob “Minmi Magster” Skelton.
The Magster read our piece last Friday about a 51-year-old woman who was charged for allegedly riding a horse to a bottle shop in Logan, south of Brisbane, while more than four times over the limit.
“I can relate to your story about the horse rider getting booked,” said the Magster, a regular in this column for his exploits as a bush poet and raconteur.
“I can remember a couple of incidents. One bloke I know got booked riding a donkey home from a pub in East Maitland about 20 years ago.”
The story made the Newcastle Herald.
“I think the pub paid the poor bloke’s fine because they got great publicity out of it,” the Magster said.
Another equine- and alcohol-themed incident involved the Magster himself.
He rode his horse from Minmi to Seahampton to celebrate a mate’s birthday back in the 1980s.
They got on the rum. After a few drinks and then a few more, the Magster hit the road at nightfall.
“I couldn’t see a bloody thing and I was virtually asleep in the saddle,” he said.
“That horse got me safely home, thank Christ. I vowed I'd never sell him and I didn’t. I don’t know how I crossed the freeway Link Road or any other road for that matter. That horse knew the way home.”
He does remember arriving home and “falling arse over head as I dismounted”.
Wild brumbies have been in the news recently, which reminded us of the Magster.
He makes trips to the Snowy Mountains to photograph the brumbies.
He frames the photos and adorns them with an original poem on a gold plaque.
When he’s travelling in the outback, some hotels accept them as payment for accommodation.
“They auction them for charity. Some places have got $500 for them,” he said.
The Magster has, on occasion, donated them to charity himself.
“I enjoy it. It’s a labor of love,” he said.
On a recent trip to the Snowy Mountains, the Magster was lucky enough to photograph “a beautiful golden mare, with a silver tail and mane and a lovely foal at foot” standing beside eucalypts.
When he travels to the Snowies, he takes his caravan.
“It costs nothing, except fuel. The millionaires can’t do this kind of thing because they’re worried about their money. But life’s not all about making money. It’s good to get away from everything.
“It’s a great country we live in. People don’t appreciate how good it is.”
How does he find the brumbies?
“You’ve got to just keep bloody looking with an eagle eye,” he said, adding that he four-wheel drives along tracks in search.
“Out on the long plain – the big treeless plains in the high country – you’ll see them out there in big mobs. They’re hard to get close to. But when they’re in the forest among the trees, you can get up a bit closer.”
But with trees and scrub in the way, it can be hard to get a clear shot of the wild horses. Every now and then, he gets a money shot.
How about the NSW government passing a law to protect the brumbies in Kosciuszko National Park?
The Kosciuszko Wild Horse Heritage Bill was passed to establish a “sustainable wild horse population” in the national park.
Environmentalists and scientists weren’t happy. They accused the government of giving priority to an invasive animal over native species.
The wild horses degrade the national park’s ecosystem, they said.
The government stuck to the line that the brumbies had been in the park for almost 200 years and had heritage value.
Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton did concede that brumby culls would still be needed to “achieve that balance with the fragile alpine environment”.
The Magster said the brumbies “do need culling from time to time”.
“But previously, they wanted to cull 90 per cent of them. That was too much,” he said.
He also reckons brumby-grazing reduces fire risk, although not everyone agrees.
The brumby population had increased from 4200 in 2009 to 6000 by 2016, despite 230 being removed each year.
Of the horses removed, 18 per cent were domesticated and the rest were sent to a knackery or abattoir.
“The greenies are complaining about the brumbies, but what about the development of the big ski resorts and the like?” the Magster said.
The Old Man and His Horse
Speaking of horses, we just came across a fable called The Old Man and His Horse. It’s about a wise man and his beautiful white horse.
A king loves the man’s white horse, so he tries to buy it. The old man doesn’t want to sell. The horse is his companion.
Soon after, the horse is stolen. The old man’s fellow villagers call him foolish. But he sees things differently. He tells them not to judge what they don’t know. All they know is that the horse is missing.
“Everything else is just a judgment. Whether it is a misfortune or a blessing none of us know, because all we see and know is just a fragment of the whole story,” the old man says.
A couple of weeks later, the white horse returns, bringing with it a dozen wild horses. The moral of the story is that misfortune can sometimes be a blessing in disguise.
The Magster is pretty wise and he does have a white pony. But, just to be clear, we’re not saying he’s an old man.
Newcastle Herald sports editor Robert Dillon will be at Hamilton News and Gifts on Saturday from 9am to 10am to sign copies of his book, Hard Yards: The Story of the Newcastle Knights.
He’ll be joined by Knights legend and Herald columnist Tony Butterfield.
Go and have a yarn to Bobby and Butts. While you’re there grab a sausage sanger for $2 to help out the Mark Hughes Foundation. And buy the book. It’s superb.