In a week when the horses of the nation celebrate their collective birthdays, let’s pause to remember one of the greatest of them all – a horse named Snowy whose pedigree was precast among the Bedouin tribes but would prove himself worthy of the men from Snowy River.
Like many horses, Snowy was bestowed a much fancier name – Sarafire x Santarabia Porfira – after he foaled in 1997 on the wide-open Riverina plains at Wantabadgery near Junee.
Sarafire x Santarabia Porfira became Snow’n’Fire and eventually, well, Snowy.
In an obituary to Snowy on social media, equine photographer Nicole Emanuel said he was so wonderful a steed, he was worthy of a book.
Bred by Leon Bennett and Rob and Yvonne Day, Snowy was striking from day one with a distinctive sabino belly splash and high white well over the knees and hocks, white chin and facial markings.
Anyone in a time capsule would be forgiven for mistaking him for the great Arabian stallion named Mesaoud born in Egypt 110 years earlier.
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Mesaoud – an Al Khamsa Arabian with verifiable lineage tracing to the Bedouin of the desert – was one of the foundation sires of the Crabbet Arabian Stud in England.
Crabbet Arabians originated in the UK in a place called Crabbet in Sussex in the late 19th century.
There horses were bred by Wildred Scawen and Lady Anne Blunt using six imported desert Arabians – the very best they could find among Middle East Bedouin tribes over two decades.
Today’s Crabbet Arabians can still trace their bloodlines back to these original horses, all bred for the same characteristics of endurance, good temperament and genuine all-round talent used for show jumping, cross country, showing, racing and dressage.
Head turner he was – Snowy the Crabbet Arabian was also a befriender.
“It was evident from a very young age that he loved the company of people, often more than his own kind,” said Nicole, who first saw Snowy in a video of the 2005 World Crabbet Convention in Toowoomba.
“He wowed the crowd with his memorable ‘Man from Snowy River’ stockmanship display to the theme song from the film with talented horseman Geoff Willis,” Nicole said.
Yes, Snowy the Crabbet Arabian took a star turn as a dinky-di mountain horse.
Trained by Anthony “Jack” Dowell of Gundagai – Snowy had already proven his celebrity as a young’un in the futurity classes at the Riverina Arabian Show, having been ridden into the ring by Jack with just a halter on.
An aversion to being tied up was what brought Geoff Willis – a quarter horse breeder, trainer and competitor from Ladysmith near Wagga – into Snowy’s life and the unlikely pairing had them working cattle in Wagga’s Bowman cattle yards.
The pair tried their hands and hoofs at the annual Gundagai Giddyup – a three-day equestrian festival which includes showjumping, rodeo and campdraft competitions – spectators’ eyebrows matched the arch of Snowy’s neck.
But Snowy being Snowy and Geoff being Geoff, together they placed high in the event, even beating some well-performed quarter horses, wiping surprise off the faces and into the hearts of spectators.
Geoff – dual winner of the Man From Snowy River Stockman’s Challenge – said Snowy was one of the best he had ever ridden on cattle; the definition of as ‘quick as a whip’!
Snowy, too, would go on to compete in the Man From Snowy River Festival.
Horses known for their gracefulness, elegant colours, and striking beauty, even the Bedouins would appreciate the transition of Snowy as he proved his versatility in hack, western and working stockhorse classes at the World Crabbet Convention but the whip cracking, roll backs, spins, sliding stops, half pass and back up – without the use of hands – was the showstopper.
Nicole Emanuel was so moved by the demonstration she contacted Rob and Yvonne Day about leasing the stallion and that’s when Snowy left the Riverina for the rolling green hills of West Gippsland in 2009 as a 12-year-old stallion, for life as a breeding stallion and competition horse for her partner Aaron Thege, a campdrafter and challenge rider.
“It was extremely unusual to compete on anything other than an Australian stockhorse and quarter horse so it didn’t take long for Snowy to become quite well known,” she said.
“He never scored below 85 for cutout in every campdraft! One weekend he came home placing seventh out of 140 purpose-bred Australian stockhorse and quarter horse competitors,” she said.
Snowy also loved having a job to do and would spend all day scaling steep terraced hills of the Strzelecki Ranges like a mountain goat.
“Whether mustering or weed spraying, where he carried two 10-litre weed sprayers swinging off his saddle, he would come home in a lather of sweat, refill the sprayers and keenly head out again,” Nicole said.
Nicole said there was much to be said about Snowy and his achievements but he was the most willing, dependable, gentle and sweet-natured horse anyone could ask for, whether it was Aaron on his back or their then-four-year-old daughter.
In 2015 Snowy joined Creswick Arabians and he went on to be a decorated show and saddle horse for Tanya Beacham.
Nicole said the last few bitter winters had been hard on Snowy so the decision was made for him to be laid to rest.
He joins many of Tanya’s other great saddle horses under her ancient gum trees at Creswick and, says Nicole, his blood lives on in his precious sons and daughters.