On the front cover of this, the last Horses and People magazine issue, a photo by Louise Sedgman of 9-year-old Zoe Tomlin with Blackie, the Waler-Quarter Horse schoolmaster who belongs to her mother, Trish Weickhardt, but is quickly becoming Zoe’s most trusted friend.
Trish, who takes lessons most weeks with dressage rider and coach Rachelle Wilson, started letting Zoe ride Blackie at the end of her lessons, and this has grown gradually so that now Zoe takes the whole lesson. The pair have clicked, and things are progressing so well that they may soon graduate to going out on trail rides.
“I love that I can trust her, and she listens to me a lot” says Zoe. She has ridden other horses in the past whom she describes as “a little bit cheeky” but Blackie is building her confidence.
The mare is 21 this year and has been in the family since she was six years old. Previously, she belonged to Trish’s uncle Mick Smith, the only other horseman in the family who has a passion for Cutting and racehorses and has helped guide Trish throughout.
Trish whose own parents were not horse people must have inherited the horse gene from a common ancestor, because at just 10 years of age, she was picking up manure for a local horsewoman, Gayle Joyce, in exchange for riding lessons on her Welsh ponies.
“Later, when I was 15 and [the pony riding] stopped, I answered an ad for trackwork riders. I used to ride three horses early in the morning before school, but then stopped riding again when I went to university” says Trish.
It was only much later when together with her husband she purchased 15 acres overlooking the Bunyip State Forest that Trish was able to get back into riding and with her uncle’s help, she bought her first horse, a grey and steady Percheron cross mare who had been pulling carriages in the city.
“Now I have quite a few horses” says Trish. “As well as Blackie and the Percheron, there’s a rescue called Ruby Tuesday who is in work, a pony, a horse off the track… Most of them are paddock ornaments just enjoying their life here.”
Trish is a paramedic and at the time we spoke, was on the last day of leave. “We work four months on and take one month off. Although out here in Gippsland the COVID situation is not as intense as in the city, it’s starting to explode a bit, so I will be wearing a lot of plastic for the next few months” she says.
Zoe has three siblings and somehow, Trish finds time to fit in riding. “I do two day-shifts, two night-shifts, and take four days off. But with COVID, my time has been very limited, because of work but also home schooling” she says.
On the other hand, it is home schooling which prompted her to get Zoe riding more regularly – as a substitute for PE (physical education). Before getting on Blackie, Zoe had been attending monthly rallies at the Neerim District Pony Club with Ella, a Shetland pony they leased from Daina Custance. “She would be led around for a few minutes and then wanted to hop off. Now she wants to ride Blackie all day, but not on the lead, she just trusts her” says Trish.
“I have a few friends [at Pony Club] who are my own age. I love seeing everyone riding their horses and having fun with them, and also riding my own horse” says Zoe who hopes that by next year she will be doing much more cantering on Blackie and maybe take part in some shows or gymkhanas.
“I like riding because it feels nice and relaxing, and it makes you feel like you’ve achieved a lot of things. Every day – if you are riding – you get better and better. Say you started walking and then you start trotting, and then you move up to cantering. It’s great” she says proudly.
But despite all the riding, she’s really looking forward to returning to school, maybe in as little as a few days, as restrictions are eased across the state.
Victorians have been through so much in the last few years. It has been a privilege to feature some of them on the magazine’s cover, thanks to Louise Sedgman’s wonderful photography, and I am grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to speak with them, to share their stories and passion for horses.