Doesn’t Everyone chase their horse in a Ute? Stories from an Australian Country Childhood

Old Jim was quite a character. He was my first intro to horse ownership and a love of all things equestrian.

I learned how to jump on Jim, well if you call the local pony club’s 18″ cavalettis jumps. One day a particularly moody Jim decided that he’d had enough of this guff and was going home. As I’ve mentioned we lived about a mile up the stock route in a small country town from the show grounds. Mum would walk down beside me while I rode Jim and sometimes stay and other times go home and come back to pick me up or when I got older I rode home. This one day, she chose to stay and was in the midst of a lovely conversation with one of the other mothers, when out of the corner of her eye she saw Old Jim with me perched on his back heading out the gates towards to road and home beyond!

He was done,  this silly game of following other horses around and jumping over these silly sticks with this skinny blonde kid on his back was not for him. I mean there’s only so much a cranky old retired pacer will put up with, besides it was feeding time and there was chaff to be had.

I had absolutely no control. Jim just put the bit between his teeth, threw his head and took us home at a fast walk, not one to over exert himself at the best of times…

So with that, mum had no choice but to jump up and chase her child up to road home…

That was him. Never more than a trot or pace actually. He never cantered, no matter how much you kicked him in the guts or used a gum tree switch on him. He was not interested one bit. The best you’d get was that he would change stride in midair… a leftover of his pacing days I guess. So I guess he was pretty safe to let the kids just go and learn how to ride.

One evening, I remember I was over playing at the neighbors house, Dad was sitting at the back table having his after work beers and decided that he was going to jump on Old Jim bareback and come over to the neighbours to pick me up.

It was all going well, the two of us trotting along bareback, when all of a sudden Jim changed stride and we slipped off. Now I’m not saying that Dad was drunk but I’m also not saying he wasn’t a little pickled. We landed with a hard thump on the ground right at the front gate in the grass. Not as soft as one would hope if I remember rightly. I got the wind knocked out of me and had a little panic, I was only 7 or 8… and that was my first fall. But after we realised neither of us were hurt, we just walked down the driveway, leading Old Jim,who was most definitely chuckling  himself on his brilliant maneuver… Old shit.

No matter what, he would not go faster than a trot, or a pace or whatever that crazy gait he had was called. Except for the time we had someone else’s horse on the place for a few weeks. He had a friend and he loved it. This one day we decided we wanted to ride and he decided he wasn’t into it. The bread didn’t work, the sugar didn’t work, he just stepped away and wouldn’t be caught. Mum came out and she couldn’t catch him then Dad came out…and that’s when the fun began… That feisty old horse ran away! I mean tail up full pelt gallop across the paddock with his new friend. Now Dad, not one to be beaten, got in his ute (utility truck) and began chasing these horses around the 8 acre paddock, with us kids in the back of course. Hey it was the 70’s and we were on a farm. It’s what you did… around and around those horses ran, until they were white with foam and blowing hard. Old Jim at full gallop was a site to behold! We were shocked and amazed. We’d never seen it before and nery a single soul on his back, be it child or full grown man could ever get him above a trot again. But that day he proved he could still run, we had fun chasing him and made a memory doing it. I don’t think we rode him once he was caught, I think it was more about who won in the end and he was too tired.

We must have had that old horse for about 3 years. By then he was really old, maybe 32 and arthritis had begun to cause him grief. He would get down on the ground and then not have the strength to get back up. He was the first horse that I even saw lay down flat on the ground to sleep. I had only ever seen them sleep standing up before Jim. At first we thought he was dead but when Dad got close he lifted his head as if to say “Yes?” And snore!? Oh My….

We had a vet come out and the prognosis was not great, he gave us some painkilling powder and we had to put it in some chaff or bread and give it to him to relieve his pain but the cunning old shit would take that piece of bread in his teeth and shake it until the powder fell off then eat it, and forget about the chaff… No tainted chaff for me thanks!

Eventually after a few months and several nights of pulling and encouragement to get him back on his feet, Dad decided that it was his time. We’d tried and tried for hours to get him up and we just couldn’t. Still there the next morning we tried again but he’d been down all night and he was just too weak.

A call was made to the local council and a backhoe came out to our place, us kids were sent to the neighbours and Dad put Old Jim out of his misery. The backhoe put him in his final resting place and pushed the dirt over him.

He was buried on the farm he’d lived since his retirement, he’d spent the last years of his life teaching us kids the love of horses and the respect of large animals like that. He received the love of a young family.  He gave us much enjoyment and I like to think we did the same for him.

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