A Hard Day's Chase

A Hard Day's Chase

Prince and Kitty Go Missing

One morning towards the end of September 1920, when I was 10 years old, my mother woke me a bit earlier than usual and said two of our team horses were missing. My father told me when I went to breakfast that it was Prince and Kitty, and said their tracks went west along the Sea Lake Road from our farm.

So I was to saddle up my pony, Elsie, as quickly as possible and follow their tracks. My dad told me Prince took long strides and walked flat-footed, whereas Kitty had shorter strides and walked more on her toes. I left home at about 7.00am with Father saying I probably would find them at Henry Lutze's place as he bought Prince from Henry a couple of months previously. My father bought Kitty at a Sea Lake horse sale some months earlier and knew she was originally from Berriwillock, but he was unaware that Prince also had been reared in that area.

I followed the tracks to Lutze's gate; it was closed whereupon the truants had obviously decided to go "home" to Berriwillock. I followed their tracks two miles south, then two miles west again, and then south again where they crossed the Tyrrell Creek, then west again. Like most of the little-used roads of that time, these were cleared but the mallee roots had not been grubbed, and in places clumps of short trunks and shoots remained, and it was on one of these that the briskly cantering Elsie tripped and fell. I shot over her neck and landed on the side of my head. I scrambled up as quickly as I could and grabbed the rein to prevent Elsie from leaving me with a 12 mile walk home. Neither of us was hurt, but I felt a bit sick and leaned against a tree for a few seconds before remounting and continuing on.

I followed the tracks west, and then south for about five miles, before coming upon a house close to the road, where I asked the elderly lady, Mrs Mills, for a drink of water. I was grateful for the glass of milk and piece of cake she gave me.

Mrs Mills said I was a long way from my Waitchie South home for a small boy, so I told her about riding Elsie 18 miles to the Sea Lake Show when I was eight and competing in the pony hunter event, then riding 18 miles home again.

"Well, you are 17 miles from home now. I wasn't at the Show, but my sons told me about a little boy riding over hurdles. Would you be that lad?", she asked.

I related the events of that day and then Mrs Mills asked me where I was going, and I said I was following the tracks of our two errant horses. "Their tracks are leading up that road."

Mrs Mills said that the meridian, which ran straight through to Berriwillock, was three miles distant. I had heard of the town but never been there.

About a mile from Berriwillock, the horses' tracks had been obliterated by a mob of sheep, however, I picked up the traces again south of the town and followed them for about another four miles until I came upon a reserve with a dam. I gave the pony a drink and got on my hands and knees and drank also.

I noticed Kitty and Prince had quenched their thirst at the dam and fed on the good native grass in the reserve. They had patrolled up and down the fence, as if seeking an open gate. (I found out later that the reserve adjoined the property where Prince had been reared eight years previously, and Kitty was from a farm two miles west.)

I continued on and found the tracks entering an open gate about a mile from the reserve. I rode in and asked a man harnessing a team of eight horses if he had seen a chestnut and a bay. He said they were there at dinner-time when he yarded his horses, and he chased them out.

He looked at me curiously and asked me if I was cold. (I was wearing a woollen jumper and it was fairly warm by that time.) I said I wasn't then, but had been cold when I left home at 7.00am. I told him I had come from Waitchie South, and had to explain its location as he did not know where it was.

His mood then changed and he was more cooperative, telling me the direction the horses had gone along the road about an hour earlier, "so you will soon catch up with them".

I followed the tracks of the horses again, travelling west for one mile, and then south. I discovered later that these were the paddocks which Kitty grew up in, and the duo were seeking another open gate.

I was now about 29 miles from home, and the time was 2.00pm, and I believed it would take me another seven hours to drive them home, but I soon found out I had underestimated the difficulty of the task ahead. They were light draught horses of six and eight years of age, and quite active. They must have decided to return to their former homes, and were most reluctant to leave.

The two turned east or west at every crossroad, and then when I headed them they would go full trot back from whence we had come, and I would have to gallop the pony to head them again. When proceeding north I had to keep trailing them up to get a jog trot from them. Open gates, which they had passed before, were now attractive, and they turned to go into, full trot across the paddock.

On occasions one would follow the fence on one side of the road, and the other followed the opposite fence, forcing me to zig-zag back and forth to keep them going - which made a lot of work for my pony. If she had not been an excellent stock horse with stamina, they would have beaten me.

Elsie liked stock work and no beast ever beat her. Whenever I could, I kept them on the track and jogging along, while they were ever keen to walk in among the mallee and box trees. And this was the pattern all the way home.

We were only a bit more than halfway home at sundown, but I was fortunate it was bright moonlight that night or I would not have got them home. Meanwhile, my mother was very worried when I was not home by dark, and my father was more worried than he let on. My mother thought I might have had an accident, but Dad said the pony would have gone home if I had fallen off. He said he did not know where to look for me and, anyhow, only had team horses left. Elsie served as hack, stock horse and gig horse.

It was 11.00 o'clock when I drove Kitty and Prince through our front gateway and up to the stable. My parents were standing in the yard, and immediately questioned me on where I had found the horses and where I had been.

I nearly fell over when I dismounted as I had not been out of the saddle since I drank at the reserve dam at midday. My calves and inside knees were very sore as I only had a poley saddle and wore knickerbockers which afforded no protection for my legs when I had to grip tightly as Elsie pivoted and turned while herding the horses.

My father took charge of the pony to feed and water her, while Mother took me inside (me with a definite bandy-legged walk).

I did not tell Mother that the pony had fallen with me for fear of worrying her. But I told my father.

I had been riding Elsie for two and a half years up to the time of the escapade, and went on riding her for 11 years while my sisters rode her five miles each way to Waitchie Central School. And she never fell again. Other children rode to school for a further 12 years. She was 34 when she died in 1944.

My mother allowed me to sleep in the morning after my marathon adventure, and wrote a note to explain to the teacher why I was absent the day before, and late for school on that morning. We lived only a quarter of a mile from the school, which was held in the Waitchie South Hall.

Miss Willey sarcastically said, "Good morning Kenny Brydon," when I walked in at about 10.30 am, but after reading my mother's note told me to go to my desk.