Dunlop’s High Country Horses
High Country Horses is nestled in the foothills of Merrijig near Mansfield in North East Victoria. We have been operating trail rides in the Victorian High Country for around 17 years. My partner Fiona and I run approximately 55 horses on rides ranging from 2 hours to multi days. I have always had a keen interest in the discipline of barefoot hoof care, so around three years ago under the guidance of Andrew Bowe, High Country Horses undertook the project of converting our herd to barefoot horses. It has been a learning process to say the least! The biggest challenge we faced was the fact that our horses do not live in the area that they work. That is to say, that whilst our horses live in the foothills at Merrijig their most demanding working area is in the rugged terrain of the mountains. In addition to this we live in climactic extremes with wet cold winters that have our horses trudging round in mud and slush doing very little work; to dry, arid summers where the horses rapidly go into a pretty heavy workload. When we started down the barefoot path it was a massive undertaking trying to convert the entire herd. As big a task as this was, we did have some success and by the end of our riding season we had successfully converted 90% of the herd to being bare on their hind feet as well as having a number of horses bare all round. Over the last couple of years we are seeing more and more horses make the transition across to being completely bare. Unfortunately we have a few that are slower than others for various reasons, mainly due to pre-existing and permanent damage in their feet. We are very happy with their progress and now, 3 years down the track; realize what an ambitious task we took on.
We now also appreciate the enormous benefits not only to our horses who are happy and healthier than ever before but also to our environment. We love the high country and understand what a privilege it is to be able to ride through its magnificent mountains, so we try to leave as small a footprint as possible so it gives us great satisfaction in the knowledge that now our horses also leave but the faintest of footprints.
Packer’s High Country Horse Riding
Helen Packer Writes
I first started up in 1990 in Dinner Plain which is Alpine High Country. Riding country is a mixture of open grass meadows, some pockets of basalt, mountain steep of trees and leaf matter, black soils, patches of gneiss, some of granite and granite sands, river tussocks and round river stones. Some of the horses I started with, Digger (hardy pony type of indiscriminate breeding), Spot (a leapord appalosa), and Big Girl (clydey x stock horse) have never been shod. They’ve self trimmed over the years and are still going well.
We also operated in the snow for about 8 years, using the hardier horses. Once the snow came, all shoes were taken off as ice tends to compact on to steel, which is not so good on any roads, and also creating solid round balls for horses to try and balance on. It seemed obvious that the shoes had to come off so the horses went barefoot in the snow. I was amazed at the condition of the hooves after 2 to 3 months of being in the snow, almost perfectly trimmed. And so as a progression, more horses went barefoot as the season changed.
The riding operation has now moved down to Anglers Rest, high country farm and bushland to the north of
Omeo, where the horses live on 350 acres of land varying from river flats to steep, granitic hills. They are constantly moving around, grazing as feed and weather dictates, basically self trimming as they go, the sandy granite soils acting as a rasp. Much of the riding country here is along bush tracks, some loose soil, some over small granite boulders and sands. The rivers are all of rounded stones so no problems walking through and along water ways. And so far, the horses hooves are managing very well. We ride up onto the Bogong High
Plains for up to 5 days. Any of the rough basalt areas we either skirt or follow the brumby pads, taking it easy, allowing the horse to look after itself. The horses that have gone barefoot up there have managed very well, coming home sound and ready to go out after a few days rest again.
I see no need to have to shoe though will be mindful that some might need to have front tips, some might have to be
shod all round, although time and the type of horse will tell on that. A friesan cross quarter horse stallion is being put over the hardier and bigger mares. His first drop of foals will be ready for riding late summer 2008, barefoot.
Helen’s website www.horsetreks.com
Our Story – A working holiday to remember
We were invited up to Helen Packer’s place in the wild back country of Anglers Rest in the rugged mountains above Omeo, to teach a trimming clinic and also to see just how well horses can perform barefoot when they are living and working in a harsh environment. We used Helen’s horses for students to learn on and it was probably no great surprise that only the young and the idle old horses really needed any trimming. The working horses were basically self maintaining on the decaying granite surface that they lived and worked on.
There was a quiet looking stallion in the mob that we chose to trim for the school. He had great looking feet that looked like they had just been trimmed in the weeks prior to our visit – a good candidate to show just how simple a maintenance trim can be. But as quiet as he was, he didn’t want his feet picked up, so we let him go as there were plenty others to choose from. Upon mentioning this to Helen after she returned from a trail ride, we found out that he
had probably never been trimmed in his life as he had not needed it! Nicky managed to photograph one of his feet.
Nicky was lucky enough to go out trail riding with Helen to get a real feel for how the horses were coping with the varied terrain. The horses, so well adapted to their surroundings carefully placed their feet over rocks and boulders.
We highly recommend this horse lovers paradise as a holiday destination. The place is full of history, charm, breathtaking views and character.