In Pursuit of Honor

Featured Image: Acknowledge ‘The Way We Were’; A Pictorial History of the Scone District 1901 – 2001; by Anne McMullin, Kath Farrell and Audrey Entwisle. Federation Publication No. 4; Published by Scone and Upper Hunter Historical Society Inc. 2002

In October 1995 Belltrees was used as a location for Warner Brothers’ film ‘Fiddlers Green’ which was based on a true story of General Macarthur’s decision to mechanise the the U.S. army, which meant the end of the Cavalry was near. in 1934, the Cavalrymen were ordered to shoot and bury their horses. Five men rebelled and took four hundred of the horses from the Mexican border through the United States to cross the Canadian Border at Milk River. In Australia, in 1955, the video was released as In Pursuit of Honor.

The movie was commissioned by American Home Box Office for cable TV in the USA. It starred Don Johnson, Rod Steiger, Craig Sheffer, Gabriel Anwar all from the USA plus Australians Robert Colby and Neil Melville.


Many local people were involved in the production including Greg Bennett (manager), Julian Lord, Derech Homer, Andy Gordon, Tim Cone, Jeremy Metcalf, Paul Metcalf, Edward ‘Bear’ Payne, Jill Murphy, Jim Haydon and John Sylvester. Horses were sourced on a daily basis from Belltrees (100), Hamish Lee-Warner (35), Ross Greenwood (50) and Les Evans (80). Another 150 came form Broken Hill making a total of 415. Selena Graham (Sylvester) was the veterinarian in charge of horse health on the sets. Mathew Clarke of Aberdeen played the part of a Canadian Mountie in full uniform.

Bold Scone Venture

Bold Scone Venture

Featured Image: Robyn and Peter Hodgson with a favourite mare at their ‘Chamorel Park Stud’, Synone, Upper Rouchel, Aberdeen in January 1978

The following article appeared in the Hunter Manning Magazine, Issue No 40; Fortnight beginning February 6, 1978. It’s essentially about the formation of the then nascent Hunter Valley Blood Horse Breeders Association. One of the main drivers was Peter Hodgson. Peter was a ‘new chum’ in the industry coming off a very successful business career in Sydney in the Electrical Engineering industry. He was a genuine ‘new broom’, highly literate and bringing a very fresh approach with novel ideas.

‘Paddling their own canoe’

Peter Hodgson is convinced that unless breeders “get off their tails and do something” the Upper Hunter Town of Scone is going to lose its tag of as a traditional horse breeding centre.

“It’ll slip through our fingers,” he says, fingering the folder of documents he has accumulated on the subject.

And it appears that the breeders agree with him.

Spearheaded by Peter, and operating under the title of the Hunter Valley branch of the Blood Horse Breeders Association of Australia, they’ve planned a bold attack on the over-productive industry. “Bold” because it’s never been done before.

The breeders want to establish Scone as a national thoroughbred selling centre. Their first step in this direction – a quality yearling sale – is presently planned for next February (1979).

They have invited Mr John Inglis, head of William Inglis & Son, the biggest bloodstock auctioneers in NSW, to conduct the sale. It obviously augurs well for the future if he accepts but according to Peter Hodgson, a refusal will not be considered a setback.

The decision to form the new Hunter Valley Branch was made unanimously at a Scone meeting last October (1977) attended by about 54. The branch covers the established horse breeding territory from Maitland to Murrurundi and has 85 “interested breeders.” These 85 said Peter represent the majority of breeders in the area and includes all the major breeders.

According to Peter, the aim of forming the branch was to give the breeders more say in the running of their industry. Its aims are to promote the Hunter Valley thoroughbred, to provide services for breeders and primarily, to promote regular yearling sales in the area.

He does not see the planned Scone sale as replacing the major Sydney sale but as “probably reducing the quantity of yearlings” sold in Sydney.

Quality, he says, will be the key word to its success. “If we can provide quality we will have a successful sale and attract people from far and wide.

“To date none of the sales held out of Sydney have attracted quality. The breeders themselves are running this sale and it is in their interest to provide quality”.

In theory, the case for a successful quality Scone sale is strong. About 60 per cent of the yearlings sold in NSW each year, said Peter, are bred in and around the Hunter. At present it costs and average of $600 to sell a yearling in Sydney whereas the new Hunter Valley body says it can put on a quality Scone sale at a cost of $150 a yearling.

Ar present “decent pedigreed” yearlings bring big money but from there the drop is dramatic. “Of the 563 yearlings catalogued at the last couple of weeks of summer sales, less than 10 per cent were top sales of $10,000 and more.

“Of the 563, 153 that made reserve figures such as $800 and $1000 were passed in. These people not only had the expense of taking the yearlings to Sydney to sell them, but they didn’t sell them.

“Of the 400 sold, I would say half the prices were not acceptable to the breeder. The service fee of a reasonable stallion is $1000 and $1500.”

Quality dictated sales will solve the problem at present plaguing thoroughbred breeding in Australia – too many broodmares. The past six years, which saw the boom period, also saw an increase of 12,000 to 24,000 brood mares in Australia.

This figure compares with 3000 brood mares in Ireland, 6000 each in England and between 30,000 and 33,000 in the USA.

According to Peter, Australia would be the only country in the world where thoroughbred yearlings are sold in the capital centres. “In Australia, for some reason, we cart them to the capital cities and incur all these costs,” he said’ adding: “It will get to the stage where people will not be able to afford to send yearlings to Sydney unless the yearling is designed to bring more than $10,000.”

He asked why Scone could not attract buyers. The branch intends soliciting race course associations and trainers and promoting the sale on a large scale. “If we can put out a catalogue we will attract buyers, no doubt about that,” he said. One thing Peter is assured of is that people who attend the sale will be interested. “In Sydney half the people there are spectators,” he said.

On present plans, the association plans to hold the sale over a week end in February. It will parade the yearlings on the Saturday morning; hold a race meeting in Scone for visitors on Saturday afternoon; start the sale probably with 75 lots on Saturday evening; another parade of yearlings on Sunday morning; and a sale of the balance of the yearlings on the Sunday afternoon. Visitors will be able to see the studs where the yearlings are standing prior to going to sale.

A major airline is considering sponsoring the sale in South-East Asia. “The airline has good connections in the breeding and racing industry in this area and it feels it can attract a tour to the sale,” said Peter. “They even intimated they will provide travel to South-East Asia for one of our members to promote the sale,” he added.

Another project the branch is backing at present – and which has received good State and Federal Government response – is the establishment of an equine research centre, as a Department of Sydney University Faculty of Veterinary Science, in the Hunter. A site it is looking at is the AI centre at Aberdeen which is to be sold this month.

There is also bid afoot in Scone to establish an equestrian centre.

All these proposed developments lead Peter to believe Scone could be a big equestrian and selling centre in five years. The Hunter Valley branch of the Blood Horse Breeders Association would put any proceeds from its sale into supporting these ventures, he said.

All eyes, however, will centre on Scone next February when the branch members “paddle their own canoe” with their first sale.

Peter Hodgson’s final say is: “Provided the breeders stand firm with their commitment to our local association, there is no way it won’t be a roaring success.”


Sadly Peter Hodgson passed away at far too early an age. He was a true visionary and a close friend. His optimism did not materialise into full fruition. I have been intimately involved myself; even today after over 50 years. Although much has be achieved I am a somewhat disappointed that ’the breeders did not stand firm with their commitment’ as Peter hoped and predicted. It’s a pity to end on a mildly pejorative note. However there are some promising signs on the horizon; yet again! Stay tuned and remain positive! Perhaps we should buy another paddle? One isn’t enough!

Thoroughbreds Magazine 1950

Thoroughbreds Magazine 1950

There is little doubt (in my mind at least) that during the second half of the 20th century the late George Ryder was ‘lightning fast out of the blocks’ when it came to the promotion of thoroughbred racing and breeding in NSW.

George was the inaugural Managing Editor for the Australian Thoroughbreds Magazine. The featured image shows the front cover of Volume I Number I released as a souvenir issue in April 1950. George wrote the foreword which I have reproduced below. It’s just possible John Reeve, Production and Advertising Manager actually constructed the piece; but George signed off anyway!

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AgriFutures Australia Thoroughbred Horses

AgriFutures Australia Thoroughbred Horses


I commend the website for right up-to-date publications relating to horse (thoroughbred) health and welfare.

Commencing in the 2017-18 financial year, a new levy will support priority research, development and extension activities to address thoroughbred industry challenges and opportunities.

This levy provides greater certainty about future RD&E funding for investment in longer term projects.

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Manipur Polo International Tournament 2016

Manipur Polo International Tournament 2016

Featured Image: The victorious Australian Team at the Manipur Polo International Tournament in 2016′

Jock Mackay is third from the left. Fellow Wirragulla team mate Beau Blundell is on his left.

The International Polo Tournament organised by the Manipur Horse Riding and Polo Association is held at the Mapal Kanjeibung; the oldest polo ground in the world. Polo originated in the small north eastern State of Manipur in 3100BC where it was played as sago/kangjei, Sago means pony and kangjei is a game of sticks. The earliest records of polo can be found in court chronicles that date back to the first century.

In 2016 it was ‘back to the future’ for Jock Mackay of ‘Cangon’, Dungog and ‘Wirragulla Polo Club’. Jock together with team mates Scott Kennedy-Green, Beau Blundell, Adam Tolhurst, Alex Barnett and Hugh Parry-Okeden the Australian Team emerged victorious. Manipur is geographically close to where Jock’s great grandfather Curtis Skene worked as a tea planter and played polo in Assam almost 100 years ago. Jock also emulated his late father Jaime (one of the Hunter Valley’s very finest) in representing his country at polo.

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“Right You Are”

“Right You Are”

Featured Image: John Gilder and the Governor of NSW Sir Roden Cutler step out at Warwick Farm in July 1980

Australian Remounts for India.

John Gilder has written a poignant and fascinating history about his family and his late father Ted Gilder in particular. He called the book: “Right You Are”. It’s a most apposite title. I commend it to you. John may have been partially motivated to do this following the publication of my ‘The Infinitive History of Veterinary Practice in Scone”? John would certainly have wished to ‘put parvenu arriviste professionals’ firmly back in place? He succeeded; in spades! Perhaps I flatter myself.

The Gilder Family of ‘Piercefield’ between Denman and Muswellbrook were responsible for sending at least 10,000 horses to India as British Army Remounts. The late Danny Edwards worked in the export trade for 11 years in the late 1920s and 1930s. He had some incredible tails to tell! ‘800 hundred horse in a paddock is a lot of horses’. He recounted how an outbreak of strangles on one voyage led to the ‘disposal’ of 96 horses at sea. I saw one ‘burial-at-sea’ on my trip to the USA in 1970. He also told me about a mythical condition they called “Sea Lung”. These were the horses he/they considered would not pass inspection on arrival in Bombay. They were also ‘culled’. It might have been merciful?

Dr Judy White recounts a fabulous tale in her book ‘Horses in the Hunter’ about John’s father Ted Gilder and his remarkable part TB/part pony mare “Swallow”. Ted Gilder managed both ‘Piercefield’ at Denman and ‘Murrumbo’ in the Bylong Valley. They were 50 miles apart. Ted left Piercefield by 3:30am mounted on ‘Swallow’ and could be back for dinner at 9:00pm having traversed over 100 miles in 18 hours! ‘Swallow’ was also a champion all-round stock horse and polo pony.

Australian Remounts for India 29 June 1905

Colonel Howard Goad, Director General, Army Remount Department of India, who was recently in Australia purchasing horses for the Indian service, has forwarded to the Premier of New South Wales a report on Australian remounts. He says “The Government of India, takes from two to three thousand horses annually for army purposes (last year 1904 four thousand) at £45 per head, landed and approved in India. The horses brought over for this purpose are nearly all unbroken. These horses are mainly horse and field artillery class, with more or less cavalry from time to time. These artillery classes are the pick of the horses of that type bred in Australia, and unfortunately the class is decreasing rapidly. I would not have bothered you with this subject were the matter not entering into an acute stage, but horses of the class required are now so scarce that they realise prices at which our shippers will not be able to continue the trade,, and I have this season had to export horses for army purposes from N. America, Argentina, and Hungary, in order to see how these horses do in India, and thus be able to turn elsewhere at once for remounts should Australia fail us.

It would be a matter of the deepest regret should I have to do so, for, as we stand, I believe that no other army in the world is horsed as well as His Majesty’s army in India is with our Australian horses, and I sincerely trust that the supply may continue. The difficulty now experienced in obtaining the class of horse we require to arm in India is I believe (and I have looked into the matter), mainly due to the facts:

“(1) That many inferior stallions are being used.

“(2) That owners have sold many of their best mares for export.

“The remedy, if I may be allowed to offer an opinion, is:

“(1) A tax on all stallions,’ none being allowed to cover unless passedby a duly qualified official appointed to inspect them.

“(2) In Government providing really good stallions-thoroughbred Clydesdales, Suffolks, and Welsh ponies-for use by breeders at a nominal fee. This system obtains in all the great horse-breeding countries in Europe (I personally have had the advantage of visiting these countries for the Government of India, and studying the systems in force); or

“(3) In giving premiums to private individuals [as is done on a very small scale in England], who will stand approved stallions at a nominal fee for the use of breeders.

“(4) Steps should be taken to prevent the best mares leaving the country.


” The Nomads”

Featured Image: “The Nomads” polo team from Dungog played the ‘Assamanders’ at Cobbitty in 1933.

L to R: Ken Mackay; Bob Mackay; W H Mackay: Charlie Hooke.

Ken Mackay played against his future father-in-law Curtis Skene and brother-in-law Bob Skene in the ‘Assamanders’ team. Ken married Phyllis Skene at Calcutta Cathedral, India on 7 February 1937.

The Mackay/Skene Family

The Mackay/Skene Family

Curtis Skene

Curtis was born in 1880 in Hamilton, Victoria. He visited and played his first polo match in Assam, India aged 17 in 1897; then returning to live in Assam, as a tea planter; remaining there for 30 years. On returning to Australia in the late 1920s he bought a property at ‘The Rock’, a year later he bought “Kilbride” at Campbelltown and played polo with the Australian Polo Club at Cobbitty, in the 1930s, calling his team the “Assamanders”.

During the 1940s he bought Australian horses for export to India, shipping them 70 – 80 at a time, and selling them to British Army Officers and Indian Princes. He was highly respected in India. At this time he also shipped horses to Hawaii and played extensively in the USA reaching a rating of 8 goals in 1929. He was considered throughout the world as “the best player of green horses’.

After the war Mr and Mrs Skene moved to Dungog and bought a dairy farm at Clarence Town. They later lived at “Cangon”. Curtis played in his last competition with Wirragulla versus Quirindi in 1951 aged 71 years. He had two children, Bob and a daughter Phyllis who later married Ken Mackay. Curtis Skene died in 1968.

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