My plan with this blog is to keep a bit of a record of the seasons on the farm and the ups and downs, busy and slow times we go through. I will bit by bit go into more detail with each aspect; the garden, the poultry, the goats, the dairy, the kitchen. But first I want to talk about one of the main reasons why the property was purchased to begin with: the ponies.
I was a relative latecomer to all things horsy. I was a horse-mad kid who dreamed of a pony of my own. I got my first pony, a little brown horror called Jock, when I was 11 years old. He was given away a few years later after he began to have issues with laminitis due to a lack of work and his lack of cooperation when it came to staying in his yard and off the green grass of our Modewarre paddock. As a nervous 14yo I was purchased a newly-broken Thoroughbred cross pony. It took many, many years, but eventually that pony, Pat, became a fabulous and reliable saddle pony. He is now 25yo and living with a family on the eastern side of Melbourne.
My first mare was Bessie, a smoky black mare of mainly Welsh breeding. She was loads of fun, a super little jumper with attitude. She became the dam of my first foal, a partbred Arabian named Pablo. Unfortunately, Pablo broke his leg while still a foal at foot. Bessie went back to the Arabian stallion Kardom and produced a bay colt who was named Stardom. Star became the first pony that I bred, raised, broke-in, trained and showed.
While Star was still a foal I bought a hairy little colt known as Lachie. Registered as Lachearnleigh Talisman, Lachie was a New Forest Pony. He was bred with Bessie and the resulting foal was the first to be registered with the Elcarim prefix. His name was Elcarim Enigma, known by most as Rusty.
Two years later my first purebred New Forest foals were born. That was 2003. Elcarim Stardust from my new mare River Valley Starbelle, Elcarim Hendrix out of a mare leased from Arnwood Pony stud, and Elcarim Merrie Maya, out of a mare leased from Lachearnleigh Stud. Elcarim Farm New Forest Ponies had it’s first registered purebred ponies. That year Lachie won the APSB Sires Rating competition for most successful New Forest stallion based on wins by his progeny.
My goal at that stage was to breed, raise, train and sell ponies, and hopefully pick up one along the way who would be my performance pony. I bred several foals and sold most of them. At one stage I had four mares. After Lachie was gelded I purchased another colt, Bankswood San Diego, who was bred to Lachie’s daughters and has produced some lovely offspring.
After my second open heart surgery I began to wonder about my future with the ponies. Being on anticoagulants and having a pacemaker made me more cautious around them. Doctors would pull interesting faces when I told them that I had horses and wanted to continue to ride and train them. I pulled old Pat out of the paddock and had a fun season competing on him before deciding to move onto something younger and at least part New Forest. I worked hard with Rusty to get him to a stage where he could do an okay dressage test, but jumping was never his thing. I still harboured enough ambition to want to ride something bigger and flashier and more talented, but each time I tried my fear got the better of me.
As the cost of breeding and showing ponies grew, the bottom fell out of the market. Selling youngsters became very difficult. When I became a single parent I pretty much gave up showing due to the cost. I also found showing to be stressful and very draining, both physically and mentally. Gradually I stopped competing altogether and started to think about reducing the scale of my stud.
Riding was the thing that made me like all the ‘healthy’ people. Being on a horse leveled the playing field. In the saddle I could pretend to be a healthy person with all my original body parts in working order. It was what kept me connected with my former ‘whole’ self.
But with riding came fear. I was always afraid. What if I fell off? It wasn’t fun any more. I couldn’t ride a big, flash horse without being terrified and I couldn’t afford a ready-made safe mount. I stopped forcing myself, stopped feeling guilty about not riding. And over time, I pretty much stopped riding. Then I felt bad about all the potential talent of the ponies sitting in my paddocks. I knew I couldn’t keep breeding them if they were going to cost a lot to keep and be difficult to sell. So I made the decision to close the stud.
Yesterday my beautiful roan mare Arnwood Temperance went back to her birthplace to rejoin the Arnwood broodmare herd. A few months ago I sold my young stallion Diego to a local lady who plans to geld him and train him for pony dressage. Zena and her daughter Polly have gone to separate farms to be riding school mounts. Tempe, Diego and Zena were the cornerstones of my stud. With them gone the reality of the situation has sunk in. There will be no more Elcarim foals.
I am left with my dear old River Valley Starbelle, who at 18 years old and with eight foals under her belt has earned her retirement. She shares a paddock with my beautiful Thoroughbred mare Bushfire Sunset (aka Red), the best horse I ever rode, now 15 years old. I also have Rusty, who is good for the occasional toddle up the road when the saddle calls me. I have three remaining youngsters, all out of Starbelle. Four-year-old gelding Zevy who is very special and may entice me back into riding one day, three-year-old Lola the midget hermaphrodite who is lovely to look at but pretty much useless, and yearling colt Zanzi who is the last one I need to sell.
But today the farm took on a new purpose. Two of Arnwood Pony Stud’s ‘special needs’ mares have come to spend some time here away from the rich feeds of their Tatura home in preparation for the next breeding season. They will be trimmed down, get plenty of exercise, go through a cold Ballarat winter and return to Arnwood to hopefully get in foal early in spring.
We have had our share of success. Starbelle defeated many breed champions in her short show career. Tempe was Reserve Supreme Junior Mountain and Moorland Pony at the Horse of the Year show as a two-year-old. My hallway is decorated with sashes and rosettes from our more notable results. With Pat I won many performance classes and my only ever championship sash for showjumping. We had our glory days.
I am sure I will always have a pony or two. The feeling of using a well-learned skill is somehow comforting and I enjoy working with youngsters. With young Zevy I hope to try some new methods and teach him by feel rather than by using my old and familiar methods. He has the brains and the motivation to learn, however I may choose to teach him. And I have a feeling that he might have a lot to teach me along the way.