There is probably no greater test of a trainer than to tame a wild horse. At just 16 years of age, Jack Purcell of Howlong has forged an unbreakable bond with a brave little brumby called Clancy.
Imagine then the challenge of taking a creature that has never known a human’s touch and teaching it to happily submit to a bridle, saddle and rider on its back and perform in front of an audience of thousands – all in 150 days.
It’s a feat that would test the most experienced of horsemen and women yet at the tender age of 16, Howlong’s Jack Purcell can lay claim to doing just that.
Jack has recently returned triumphant from the finale of the Australian Brumby Challenge, an event that takes brumbies from the High Country of Victoria and southern NSW and partners them with horse trainers.
With the aim of showcasing the trainability and versatility of an animal that is part of Australia’s heritage, the challenge culminates with the horses being put through their paces at Equitana Melbourne, one of the largest equine events in the Southern Hemisphere.
The brumbies are then auctioned on the final day of Equitana.
So when Jack wanted to enter the brumby challenge, despite being too young for the cut-off age, the pair submitted references and video footage that convinced organisers to allow a junior into the competition.
And the quietly spoken youngster didn’t disappoint. Jack first met his brumby, officially named VBA Hotham, after the four-year-old gelding was “passively caught” with his family mob out of the Bogong High Plains.
Getting “Clancy” to Howlong was the first hurdle; Shelley and Jack ran him up a race and into an open stock crate to transport their precious but unhandled cargo home.
And so it was that a nervous brumby was soon carrying a rider, trotting over tarps, braving bouncy balls and allowing itself to be guided through all manner of obstacles that every instinct would have run from. It’s clear there is a foundation of love and respect for the animal in Jack’s training; the often-used term “breaking in” doesn’t sit comfortably here.
“It’s a friendship, he is a partner in work, not a tool,” Jack says.