Trust key to breaking in lively colt quickly
QUIETLY spoken animal trainer Frank Green has broken bones, records, maybe even the odd heart in the past 50 or so years, but his conscience is clear when it comes to horses.
This gentle bloke from the bush has a well-earned reputation for his work in the equine world and has just earned the title of Australia's first Legendary Ultimate Horseman.
The Ultimate Horseman Colt Starting Challenge was a man versus horse showdown involving six of the country's top horsemen in two categories: young guns and legends.
As the trainer you have to be confident, the horse needs to know you are confident, because everything else in that environment is unfamiliar to them.
Mr Green jokes being "on the far side of 35" meant he qualified as a legend putting him up against Charters Towers' horse breeder Geoff Toomey and Japan-based horse trainer Paul Williamson.
In simple terms the event involved taking an unbroken colt to a point where he could be ridden with less than five hours of handling.
"We had an hour-and-a-half a day for three days to get these horses ready to be loaded onto a float, willing to walk across a tarpaulin and able to be saddled and ridden out of the arena," Mr Green explained.
"It was 100% about trust and patience: to get a horse to do these things you need to know how they think and why they behave like they do."
The Bush Telegraph caught up with the modest horse trainer, while he was in Warwick last week for the country's most famous rodeo.
It was familiar territory for the 53-year-old, who was a regular in the rodeo arena for decades and along the way collected a record setting 29 titles including the Australian Open Bareback and All-round Cowboy tags.
"I did my last rodeo back in 2000, I was at the top of the standings and it seemed a good point to retire from," he explained.
"It was an achievement to have won in Warwick; it's what everybody in rodeo wants.
"Warwick Rodeo is still the daddy of them all.
"It was hard to retire, but stepping down meant I could put 100% into my horse training business."
It is a business he runs now from a property at Taroom, but the shift in focus doesn't mean this personable trainer is any more settled than he ever was: he still travels extensively.
And the switch in equestrian disciplines hasn't altered his inclination to win: in 2004 he won the National Cutting Australia Futurity and there has been other successes. So how did this softly spoken horse whisperer get started?
"My father was a race horse trainer at Rosewood and I started working life as an apprentice jockey," he said.
"I have been around horses all my life as a young fella I even did showjumping and rode hacks.
"Then I moved into rodeo and I did a bit of everything bull riding, saddle bronc, bareback, you name it I gave it a go.
"Then I started training cutting horses and trick horses as part of an entertainment show.
"I have been in the Australia team for rodeo and cutting.
"So I think I have covered every field in the horse industry now."
He prides himself - in the modest way of those with a genuine gift - on his capacity to understand the way a horse thinks, which allows him to establish a bond of trust between himself and his four-legged charges.
In simple terms it means he doesn't "break in" horses as much as build a rapport that ensures he can get them to do pretty much anything he asks.
"When I see a horse and look in its eye I usually get a gut feeling," he explained.
"In Warwick last year I liked the look of a big horse at
the rodeo sale so my daughter bought him and he is now one of the country's best pick-up horses.
"But the horse has to have some natural ability; it's never always about training.
"Though both the horse and the trainer have to have the desire to work together and get in the zone so learning can happen."
It was this "zone" that he believes was critical to his success in the Ultimate Horseman Challenge.
The competition was held over three days in Dalby, with each horseman having an hour-and-a-half a day to work with their young colt in an arena crowded by full grandstands.
Each competitor had a "wrangler" to offside for them and Mr Green's choice of helper was Warwick's Mick Aspinall.
"I was the only one allowed in the arena with the horse, but Mick did a great job having gear ready for me as I needed it," the renowned breaker explained.
"First of all you have to get the horse to trust you; it's the most important step in the process.
"Then you have to know how much pressure you can put on that animal, you don't want to over do it in that situation where you have limited time."
After the first day's brief session with the animal he was confident he could ride it out of the arena.
"But the organisers weren't sure that was such a good idea," he laughed.
"So they made me wait for day two."
The second day not only did the experienced trainer ride his colt, he slipped off the bridle and then stood on the animal's back.
"I was confident this horse would do what I needed him to do," Mr Green said.
"And as the trainer you have to be confident, the horse needs to know you are confident, because everything else in that environment is unfamiliar to them.
"It is my job as a trainer to show them the way, so they aren't battling with fear or wanting to fight you."
On the third day he could ride his colt - which had only ever been shifted in a truck - into a horse float and walk him across a tarpaulin in the arena as well as complete a series of set moves.
"You want the horse keen to do things for you; so you have to melt with that animal so you are part of it.
"You can't be the aggressor and you have to 100% be in the zone with that horse, so you know what he's feeling and how he's going to react.
"Trainers have to be realistic too, specially in something like the ultimate horseman challenge, there are always going to be some limits.
"But trust is everything, absolutely everything, when it comes to training a horse."