In the late 1960s a very different type of horseman and breed of horse brought their eclectic finely honed skills to Blandford. Greg Lougher and his family established the first Quarter Horse Stud ‘Cloverleaf’ on the Timor Road. The featured image shows Greg demonstrating his skills in the cattle yards at ‘Cloverleaf’. This is their story.
This article first appeared in a previous edition of Equestrian Life magazine.
A daughter remembers her father’s pioneering efforts to bring Quarter Horses and Western riding sports to Australia after falling in love with the wide brown land as a young G.I.
BY JACQUELINE MACARTHUR
Photography supplied by AQHA & GAIL RITCHIE
Greg Lougher was ‘a natural’, an heir to the famed Californian vaqueros who made riding excellence both an art and a science.
The Australian Quarter Horse Association’s first Hall of Fame inductee became a legendary figure in this country as an extremely talented all-rounder.
From rescuing horses in epic floods and becoming a war-time farrier for pack horses traversing Himalayan mountains and mined rainforests in Asia, to riding Quarter Horse stallions in English fox-hunts while instructing top UK showjumpers, schooling 10 goal polo players and their ponies, and even riding the famous US bucking bronc, Five Minutes to Midnight, Greg Lougher lived for horses.
Here is a rare glimpse into the early days of his Australian adventure, as told by his daughter, Gail Ritchie, herself an accomplished horsewoman.
Could you tell us about the early days of Clover Leaf Stud?
Clover Leaf Stud was started by Gregory Lougher after he arrived back from World War II. He started his stud from one mare, Kamappeal. Prior to the War, Greg was studying to become a vet at the University of Davis, California, but upon his return found things had changed and he was unable to continue his education and he had to find employment quickly. He took up what he was good at, training horses. He trained many different types of horses and many different breeds but, was always drawn to the newly developing breed, the Quarter Horse. Greg crossed his Thoroughbred mare Kamappeal with the Quarter Horse Stallions he liked best and from this his stud developed. Greg was a cowboy at heart (he was the national first inter college all around rodeo champion of the US) and always loved training Reined Cowhorses and Cutting horses. He bred his increasing broodmare band to stallions he had either trained or trained progeny that had great cow sense and athletic ability. He had great success with the horses he had bred himself, especially in cutting and cow horse classes on the west coast of the US. Many of these horses were brought to Australia in 1967.
What was your father’s motivation for coming to Australia?
Greg was posted to Southeast Asia during the war – mainly in India, China and Burma. While there he contracted malaria and became very ill. He spent some time in Australia on R&R and simply fell in love with the country. He had developed a successful horse training establishment in Clements, California and when he was in his mid-fifties decided he wanted to get out of horse training for the public and perhaps buy a cattle property. He was looking to move from California to somewhere he could buy land that was a bit cheaper and he could run cattle. He then thought back to his days in Australia and what great land it was for cattle. So in 1963, Greg took a trip to Australia, just to have a look and once back in the Australian bush he knew it was the place for him.
What were his first impressions when the family arrived?
Greg arrived first in Australia and his wife, Carmel, and two daughters Lori (and I) were left in Clements to sell the property while he took 31 head of horses by ship to England for quarantine, which was supposed to take six months. Things didn’t work out the way Greg and his family expected as the shipping company that took Greg and his horses from the wharf in Stockton, California, to the docks near London made an unscheduled stop in France. There was a quarantine on horses from France to England at the time and Greg and his horses were told they could not land in England. After much drama, Greg was sent to Belgium for an additional three months quarantine until he was able to enter England and an additional six months in England before he could be shipped to Australia.
At the same time all this drama was unfolding in England, Carmel and the daughters were trying desperately to sell their property in California. They all had to work hard to keep the property running so it would look its best to sell. It did finally sell, and the girls set sail on the P&O Oriana for Australia in December 1967.
Greg had arrived in Adelaide with the horses about six months earlier and eventually settled at a lovely property in the Upper Hunter at Murrurundi, NSW. He thought it was great horse and cattle country and was so taken by the beautiful valley. The girls arrived and were also surprised at how pretty the valley was. The first sound they heard as they got out of the car from their long drive from Sydney was a Kookaburra laughing. It took a little while to get used to the Aussie bush, but they were all so busy with non- stop visitors and exhibitions they did not have much time to miss their old home.
What were you and your sister’s first impressions on arrival – what did you see as the major challenges and successes in promoting the working cow horse events?
When we first arrived in Australia the only people who rode western were rodeo riders and the odd person who had been to the US and brought a Yank saddle back. I was 16 and Lori was 12 when we arrived and it was not easy to be different at that age. The Clover Leaf horses were asked to do exhibitions from Adelaide to Brisbane at Royals and Country shows. Greg only had his two girls to help him do the exhibitions as Carmel had stopped riding when she got married. So, Greg and the girls became “those yanks on those quarter horses.” We sort of built up an exterior of being untouchable, or aloof, but in reality it was just a defence, simply because most people would just stare and walk around us looking at the horses but were never really all that nice to us. There were some people who were very nice and some who, I have learned later in life, were just too shy to talk to us.
It was tough in the beginning although, the Murrurundi property had thousands of visitors who called in to see the quarter horses and Greg Lougher’s legendary horsemanship skills. Greg, Lori and I would demonstrate cutting and the cow horse along with most other Western type disciplines at the property on weekends, sales or schools. It took about four to five years for western riding to really take off, as Australia had a strong English culture and did not see any advantages in other forms of horsemanship. However, when a few well-respected Australian horsemen and women started to breed quarter horses, or adopt the Western horsemanship techniques, there was a slow but steady swing to the alternate horse and riding style.
When Greg had a serious riding accident in the early 1970s, which incapacitated him, the running of the stud was now put in the hands of Lori and I. The horses still had to be promoted. There were lots of other quarter horse breeders now importing horses that were trained in Western events and they were competition to Clover Leaf. So, Lori and I had to travel from Murrurundi all over the east coast showing what Clover Leaf horses and the stud could do without Greg.
Our father had passed on much of his knowledge to us, but we were both still relatively young. But, it put huge pressure on us having to go out and train new horses and show them without Greg. Luckily, the horses were talented and Greg had been a good teacher.
What was Australians’ reaction to Clover Cherry when they first saw her in action?
Clover Cherry was a 14.2 hand cherry red chestnut mare who worked totally different to any horse most Australians had seen. In today’s world, she would have been considered “very cowy” as she had a tonne of expression but back then, she blew their minds. When we would arrive at a show where we were to put on an exhibition, we would unload the horses and immediately a group of people would gather round. They would look at Cherry and shake their heads and say, ‘she’d never be able to move to catch a cow’, but then after the exhibition when they would see her hold tough cow after tough cow they would return to the stall or trailer and say to Greg, ‘I never saw a horse do that before and we have to give you credit, these quarter horses may be alright after all’.
Who were the major characters you encountered when you arrived?
When Greg made his trip to Australia in 1963 he met John Stanton. John was partly responsible for Greg’s move as he showed him so many wonderful horses and introduced him to the great horsemen of the time. John remained a good friend to Greg and when he arrived enjoyed riding a few and exchanging training ideas.
The property we bought at Murrurundi was adjacent to one of Australia’s most respected horsemen, Jim Hayden. He was instrumental in inviting many well know horsemen including, Ken Mackay, who was at that time the ringmaster of the Sydney Royal. Ken rode Clover Lori, the other mare that was exhibited alongside Clover Cherry, who was a California Reining Cowhorse and was so impressed, he became instrumental in the RAS inviting the Clover Leaf Horses to be one of the main attractions for the main arena displays. After those displays, the horses and Greg, (and even Lori and I) became famous in the Australian equine world.
Another person who was also instrumental in Greg moving to Australia and on arrival in Australia was Jack Reilly. Jack was heavily involved in Australian Quarter Horses at the time. He then introduced Greg to Sam Horden who was generous and invited Greg and 31 horses to stay on his property near Penrith while Greg was looking for a permanent home for the horses.
What would your father think of the popularity of Western riding in Australia now?
He would be overwhelmed to see what it has grown into as far as the size and popularity, but Greg was a true horseman. He admired all types of training and all breeds of horses and he would be also impressed with the growth of all equine disciplines. There are some styles of training in western disciplines he would think have lost the true nature of a horse’s natural way of going, but as he would often say, it’s only a fad and as long as you are breeding a good athletic type of horse, you’re always on the right track.
This article first appeared in a previous edition of Equestrian Life Magazine.
International 10 goal Polo Champion Sinclair Hill had a very high opinion indeed of Greg Lougher’s special expertise.