Wally Conron has worked with animals for most of his 92 years, and keeps four horses at his home in the Barrabool Hills. Wally, along with Sally Miller and Pom MacKenzie, who learned to ride with him, told this story of ‘Ladies’ Day’
Wally: When I moved to Geelong 30 years ago, the Barwon Valley Pony Club invited me to be a riding instructor. I thought it unfair that the mothers were expected to just lead their children’s ponies around.
So when one of the mothers approached me tentatively and murmured, ‘I was wondering if you could teach me horse riding?’I hesitated-because teaching an adult beginner is not a simple matter. For one thing, they don’t bounce like kids do when they fall.
She walked away thinking I was refusing her request, but her dejected air got the better of me. I asked her to come to my place, and explained that I teach horsemanship, not just riding.
‘It’s no good riding if you can’t saddle up and don’t know how to treat your mount. You’ll learn to approach a horse confidently, then you’ll put on the head collar. After that, you’ll lead the horse, standing at its shoulder, and you’ll learn to groom it. Then,’ I concluded, ‘you’ll be ready to put on its saddle and bridle.’
The word got around and before long I had several enthusiastic women wanting to join what I began to call my ‘Ladies’ Day.’
Pom: ‘It was a turning point in my life when I met Wally. I rode our horses as a child, but my father “didn’t like horsey women,” so until I met Wally I hadn’t ridden.
Wally: ‘I was careful not to rush them. After several weeks of ground work I let them mount up. They conquered their nerves, and were soon walking the horses without me leading them. I took them on trail rides, and as they improved I included beach rides.’
Sally: One memorable beach ride with the group, dear Molly, the quietest old mare , with Bebe on board, took a dislike to the waves and backed all the way up into the sand dunes where a couple of nudists were sun-baking. I can still hear Bebe’s laughter to this day, and the rest of us were hysterical .The laughs and friendships have stayed with me.
Wally: The group had bonded, and stayed on. I started giving them afternoon tea; I was enjoying their company.
Pom: Those afternoons, enlivened by Wally’s sense of humour and the afternoon teas he provided, were both memorable and delicious.
Wally: I predicted, “One day you will own your own horses, join an adult riding club, and even compete in competitions.
They laughed and declared, “Never!” They were having a ball, living life to its fullest.
Pom: I bought a horse for my daughter with Wally’s help, then at last, I bought my own. I went on to learn dressage.
Wally: Over the following 30 years they went overseas visiting and riding in famous horse establishments. In addition, they were competing in horse events all over Victoria.
Pom: ‘With other Ladies Day women I went to Portugal to learn more with their amazingly skillful horses. We also attended the Olympic equestrian events in Hong Kong.’
Sally: Since then I have been a regular member of local Adult Riding Club, and done some competing. I have travelled to Equestrian Olympics in Hong Kong and The World Equestrian Games in France. I have ridden on a number of High Country Trail Rides and also across the Loire Valley in France. I have owned, loved, and lost a number of horses since learning to ride at Wally’s. We even took Wally skiing at Bulla for the first time when he was in his 70’s.
Pom: By now we could tell what makes a good horse, so when I passed my horse on to my daughter, I had the confidence in my judgement to choose another one for myself.
Sally: I have also bred a couple of horses for myself, and really enjoy training them. Wally’s support gave me the confidence to achieve these things.
Wally: Every Melbourne Cup day we gather and reminisce about those wonderful Ladies’ Days at Gnarwarre.
Story: Rae Barclay. Photos supplied.