It’s 10:00 am and the mist is still hanging over the rolling hills that surround the Maguire’s cattle farm in Bowning, in the NSW Southern Tablelands.
Marina Maguire is boiling the kettle and tending to the fire in the horse stables ready for my arrival.
The beauty of this moment is that it’s quiet. This is how each morning begins at not-for-profit Remount.
The free program runs 10 times per year over the course of a weekend at the cattle property, and invites veterans who may be experiencing stress or anxiety related to their service to get back in the saddle.
“Everyone arrives around 5:00 pm on a Friday and we’re all here in the stables to welcome them with a cuppa,” says Marina. “Then we have dinner together, get to know each other and head off to bed for an early night.”
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Veterans spread out between a small cottage near the Maguire’s house, a shipping container that’s been converted into a spare room, and borrowed camper trailers.
Even Marina and Ben Maguire’s 14-year-old daughter, Harriette, gives up her bed on busy weekends, but she enjoys being involved, especially by helping mum in the kitchen or saddling up the horses.
“The next morning we light the fire and have bacon and eggs for breakfast,” says Marina. “There’s a lot of country hospitality. Then we run a briefing – we’re big on safety – and then it’s two full days in the saddle mustering cattle.”
Finding the right horse for each drover is really important to the program’s success, and Ben says he can often pick a match as soon as a veteran steps out of their car.
“The magic is in the horses,” he says. “We talk about the horse’s language and this idea that the more in control you are, the more relaxed the horse is. So if the person is feeling nervous, which quite often they are, we have to get them to step up.”
There’s no pressure for any of the veterans to talk while they’re at Remount. The Maguires are genuine people and rely on their life experience to guide the veterans.
“Most veterans have to heavily justify their reasons for getting help,” says Ben. “Whether you were in service for five seconds or 50 years, we don’t mind. Then when they arrive, we’re not clinicians. We just say, ‘G’day.’ It’s our life skills that are helping them.”
For people who don’t live on a farm but benefit from nature, being at Remount is a real privilege.
About 2km before you even reach the cattle farm, you’re off the beaten track on a dirt road surrounded by eucalypts and parrots.
Simon D’arcy is ex-army and took part in the March 2021 Remount program. Now he’s a volunteer.
“It was a complete direction changer for me,” he says. “Not only are the people amazing, but working with the horses changes you.
“The horses don’t have an agenda and they have certain needs so if you’re not present with the horse they can sense it and will look elsewhere for leadership. So it’s all about building a relationship with the horse.”
Ben says one of Remount’s veterans wore her medals for the first time on Anzac Day 2021.
“She didn’t feel proud, valued or worthy before coming to Remount,” he says. “Part of what we do is thank the veterans, genuinely. We’re doing this because we want to acknowledge what they do, and we’re not just doing it on one day of the year – it’s throughout the year so they feel highly valued.”
Ben and Marina purchased the property eight years ago to give Harriette the childhood they experienced on farms.
Before then, the couple was living in Sydney and running the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame in Longreach, Queensland.
During the museum’s annual camp draft, Ben and Marina were asked if they’d host veterans. The seed was sown.
The couple put their hands in their pockets for the insurance, catering, uniforms and everything else that was necessary to establish Remount in Bowning. They even borrowed what they could, including Ben’s parent’s 90-year-old saddles.
The irony was, by the time they were ready, they couldn’t find any veterans.
That’s when they connected with former Royal Marine Jim Hutton, who runs a life coaching business from Yass, near Bowning.
Within a month, in 2016, Remount was up and running.
Now, Remount owns eight horses, quality gear and has no problem finding participants.
“We share the program dates on 1 January and we’re full in a couple of days,” says Ben.
Ben and Marina have no doubt there’s a need for a full-time program, and plan on running programs for corporate and defence teams that would sustain free programs for veterans and their families for the future.