This is a story about a teenage horse whisperer from Australia. He is only 16! I wish I could be a horse whisper. Animals talk to us all the time and we need to be willing to listen to them. ~Declan
Teenage horse whisperer's secrets
DAVID UNWIN/Fairfax NZ
"He's a good example over there," says Jed Southcombe, gesturing at a grumpy stallion hidden in the shadows of another stable. "He doesn't like anyone at all. He puts his ears back and his look says, `Piss off, leave me alone'."
The 16-year-old Feilding High School pupil knows his horses. Making soothing clicking noises, Jed coaxes a strapping 3-year-old thoroughbred back into his stable with ease. The horse nuzzles him affectionately, but the young rider doesn't fold, saying he has become used to a "tough love" approach even with his favourites.
"It takes ages to bond with them because you've got to work with them every day. You've got to do everything for them like children but you can't baby them because otherwise they push you," he says. "You can become great friends with them. But I've got a baby at home and I let him get away with stuff so he would play up. He's a lot better now I've sorted him out."
Jed has helped train many horses at his family home, but this year he will train one solo for the first time. He is also in training himself – next month he will represent New Zealand at the American Quarter Horse Association Youth World Cup in Germany. Manawatu District Council has awarded him a $500 grant towards the trip.
In preparation, Jed has been working at Copperbelt Lodge stables, cleaning up after 60 racehorses for the past six weeks under his school's agricultural programme.
He is the second youngest in a team of six Kiwi teens going to the world cup. Of the 18 international teams, New Zealand sends the smallest number of competitors. As the big event approaches, Jed has been competing constantly and riding almost daily.
The quarter horse is a breed apart from the thoroughbreds Jed tends to every Friday at Copperbelt Lodge. The quarter horse is a shorter, stockier animal measuring 14 to 15 hands and which excels at sprinting short distances. The name originates from their ability to outdistance other breeds in races of a quarter mile or less, and they are immensely popular in the United States, particularly among cowboys who use them for stock work.
For the event in Germany, competitors do not bring their own steed – instead, the horses choose their master. For each event, be it sprinting, showmanship, pleasure class, or reining, human and horse are matched based on carefully judged rapport.
"You draw the horses out of the hat," Jed says.
"What they do is they give a range of horses that suits an amount of riders. They put them into a big group for each country and if you don't suit any horse they'll change it for you."
The young rider and trainer is quietly confident. He has represented New Zealand before, winning two golds and a silver against Australia last year in a trans-Tasman competition.
He was also awarded International Rookie of the Year in 2011 and has been asked to work in Australia and the US by trainers Mark Schaeffer and Martin Larcombe.
Jed has dreams of becoming a world class trainer and, as the home of quarter horses, America beckons.
"I want to learn all the disciplines, not just riding, that's why I'm working in the stables. But I still want a job to fall back on, like engineering or something."
At the end of year 13, Jed has plans to move to Texas to take up a job offer training quarter horses under the wing of American experts.
- © Fairfax NZ News