On our cover in this issue, we feature a portrait by Louise Sedgman of Kerrie Fitzgibon and her home-bred Bear Junior (a.k.a. BJ).
“It’s my favourite photo, BJ looks huge!” says Kerrie. “Louise was making some squeaky noises and it’s like he was asking ‘what is she doing mum?’ At 15.2hh he’s not a massive horse, but he looks really big, like a giant” says Kerrie proudly.
BJ holds a very special place in Kerrie’s heart. She bred him out of the ‘once in a lifetime’ mare she owned for 24 years and firmly cemented her love for Appaloosas. “BJ and I have a ridiculous connection. I never thought I would have anything as good as his mother, but he’s my second horse of a lifetime. I just adore him and all of his quirks” she says.
Kerrie’s passion for horses was a big surprise to her parents and despite growing up in the suburbs of Sydney, it never faltered. Only her grandfather shared her love for horses and after watching her spend every available opportunity learning about them, helping other horse owners, pleading and cleaning stables in exchange for rides, he gave her a chance to have her own.
“My parent’s wouldn’t buy me a horse, so my grandfather took me to a dealer in Sydney. We walked into this paddock that had just dirt and horses that looked like they were about to drop dead, and I fell in love with the first one that came to me and put his head on my shoulder… He was a black Appaloosa with a white blanket and that was that,” says Kerrie, “the rest is history.”
As soon as she finished school, Kerrie found a job as a stable hand with ‘the best of the best’ at Peppercorn Park Picton, the influential Appaloosa stud that is still owned and operated by Leonie and Peter McDonald. It was the 80s, when the stud was at its biggest, with five stallions and 100 mares. “I worked at the stud for two years and they were the most influential of my life” says Kerrie.
“I learned from Leonie and Peter that horses weren’t about playing around, that they are either a passion or you have to get out. They kicked my butt when I needed it and told me what to do. I worked hard for them and they appreciated me for it.
“To this day, they retain the most incredible passion for the breed and the horses, and I still visit them every four or five years.
“Leonie’s talent and knowledge with foals and doing things right was and still is outstanding. I remember that years later, I went to a Monty Roberts clinic, thinking I would be learning new things about a foal’s body language, and when I was there, I realised I had learned all that and more at Peppercorn Park Picton!”
Today, Kerrie juggles full time work as a retail store manager with part time work helping others with foal handling and float training (training to load), as well as managing eight horses on her own property in Victoria.
And she’s written a book on foal handling which fills a much needed gap. “I wanted to write something that was simple and easy to follow, because there’s nothing out there that is just about foal handling, from birth to that time when youngsters are ‘sent to the breaker’”, says Kerrie.
“It took two years to write and I selected breeders and trainers to give me feedback, and their response was really positive. Now that it’s published, if I can’t get to help someone in person, I can send them my book. They can follow the step-by-step process and get their youngsters correctly handled, used to being groomed, rugged and loading well, etc.
With so many years of experience in the horse industry, Kerrie has seen many changes, not all of them for the better. She misses those times when riders were in less of a hurry and most horses were solid all-rounders. “I’m really a non-competitive person. If my horses go out and come last, as long as I think they have gone well I am happy” she says.
“You can go out, buy a horse and ride it, and if riding is all you want to do, then you don’t have a passion for horses” she continues. “You have to be as happy to just sit with them in the paddock, watch them eat and graze around you, look at them, pat them, study them as they move, appreciate and cherish them for the intelligent animals they are. That’s a true love for horses.”
To order or find out more about Kerrie’s Foal Handling book contact her by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org