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RIDeRS what is the special connection between horses and humankind? five gay men from different equestrian disciplines share their insights. by matthew myers.

THe HORSe WHISPeReR

Adam Sutton, 37, Cooranbong, NSW

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FEATURE

DNA: What attracts you to riding horses? Adam: I think horses were put on this earth for us to work with. They’ve seen humans through war, travel, discovery and exploration over many years. A lot of people have a bond with an animal, whether it be a cat or bird, and some people bond with wild animals like bears, but I’ve always had an attraction to horses. What’s your earliest memory of riding? Around the age of four, Mum and Dad used to take us trail riding. I didn’t have a fear and the first time I cantered I felt like I was flying. In your autobiography Say It Out Loud, you talk about the many emotional challenges you’ve faced. How has riding helped? Horses are extremely emotional animals and a lot of their feelings are based around fear and anxiety. In being able to help a horse, it also helps you. You end up teaching each other. Having horses in my life has been a good sounding-board and helped me get through things. The right horse can put you in the right place in your mind. Do you receive mail from young rural guys who you’ve helped come out? All the time. I’ve received well over a thousand

inexperience or accident and injury. It’s like people who have been abused as kids, and they hang on to those emotions and scars and sometimes with horses you have to go back in history and talk to them about it. I tell them that it’s okay and it’s the only way they can move forward. It is like having a discussion with the horse, but it’s non-verbal. You won The Way Of The Horse competition at Equitana 2010. What did that involve? It’s a competition over two days involving three un-started colts. At the end there is a skills test where we had to have our horse walk, trot and canter left and right – if possible! But these horses have never been ridden or even had a bridle. It involves all sorts of things from going over a jump to dragging a bale of hay. After the first day I had barely caught my horse, but I had a lot of other non-physical things happening with him. It all came into place on the last day. Are horses loyal? Yes, they are. They’ll do things for the right person and not for the other. They sometimes drive you crazy, but only if you let them. You worked as a wrangler on the film Ned Kelly, what was that like? Awesome! I learned a lot and met a lot of people. To see a film come together, and especially working with horses as well, was pretty good fun. It was a lot of hard work and

Horses are extremely emotional animals. In being able to help a horse, it also helps you. letters and Facebook messages, between the book and appearing on Australian Story. I’ve had letters from 14-year-olds up to people in their 70s. I had one guy contact me who had only told his dog and his sister that he was gay, and on his death bed he wanted to tell someone else. It’s touched a lot of people and I feel quite responsible. It was a bit overwhelming to start with, because I was suddenly their sounding-board. How do you deal with that? I don’t think it’s about advising, but more about listening, because they have something to tell. It’s like with horses. You don’t get in there and try to teach the horse something, you have to listen first to where his mind is at. What does a horse whisperer do? [Laughs] Yell, at times! You can call it horsemanship or horse-training. There are different levels to it and it involves different disciplines of riding. I like to know that I take a wild and untrained horse, meet him in the middle and become his mate. But he has to work for me, too. He’s a mate, but he’s also an employee. But he has to be a happy employee – it has to be a happy relationship. Do you relate to the Robert Redford movie? Yes, I see a lot of horses that have gone through trauma, from negligence or

long hours, but the vibe alone is great. More recently I’ve been doing some stunt work for Wild Boys, doubling for Mad Dog Morgan. On Ned Kelly you taught Heath Ledger and Orlando Bloom how to ride? Well, Heath had already done a bit of riding in The Patriot and A Knight’s Tale, but Orlando had only ridden once or twice. So we spent a week with them, getting them riding. They had to do some galloping scenes, riding through fire and all types of stuff, so we had to bring them up to speed pretty quick. You became a close friend to Heath. His death must have been a shock to you. It certainly was. It took a lot of people by surprise. Heath gave me a lot of confidence. He told me one day he’d read a script that sounded a lot like me, which turned out to be Brokeback Mountain. He was a mate who said, ‘You’re okay’, whereas I always told myself I wasn’t. To be on the set of Brokeback Mountain was pretty good. Heath was a life full of energy, wisdom and knowledge. I have lots of fond memories of him. Are you okay with being likened to Heath’s character in Brokeback Mountain? I still get the gay cowboy sometimes, which used to not sit well with me, but then I got known as a celebrity horse-trainer as well. I try

not to take things personally. I just like to be known as a respectable horseman. The good thing about The Way Of The Horse is that I was always known as the gay cowboy and to win the 2010 Horseman Of The Year put a lot of things in perspective. Some people thought I’d gotten my horsemanship through riding on the coattails of celebrity, but winning this championship put the critics to bed. They realised I got there through hard work. Do you have a favourite horse movie? Phar Lap! I cry all through Phar Lap. I also like The Man From Snowy River and some of the horse stunts in The Light Horsemen are fantastic, too. Do you find homophobia in the horse world? Yes, in different circles. The horse world is full of different disciplines, from English to Western, so when you get out there into some of the cowboy-cultured Western events it’s going to be there, but as long as you are who you are and you’re not there flapping your wings about, it’s fine. You have to be respectful of others. But the whole gay thing is a bit yesterday now and a lot more acceptable. Is there something manly and attractive about riding horses? Well it’s outdoors, and I think there’s something very masculine about it, but it has to come from within, too. It’s that whole cowboy culture. I used to ride rodeo and camp-draft and there’s certainly a lot of testosterone flying around in rodeos. On Australian Story, you were shown with a group of gay cowboys. Do you still mix in those circles? Yes, up at Nundle. I don’t mix as much with them now, because they’ve gone interstate, but I still mix in the same sort of crowd. Have you discovered more and more gay cowboys, jackaroos and farm folk? After the book I meet a lot of different people. Is it true that cowboys don’t wear undies? [Laughing] That’s a personal preference. I do, but I know that some don’t. Have you ever ridden naked? Yes, it’s great and really back to nature. It’s almost like skinny dipping, being on a warm animal and in the water. You’re at one and it’s pretty good. Are you currently seeing anyone? Yes, I’m in a happy relationship at the moment. It’s a big part of my life that I’ve always wanted. I have a great partner in Donny and it’s really grounded me. Love is a magical feeling and it’s something I had denied myself in the past. Do you have a favourite horse quote? One of my training ones is, “A horse is a good mirror.” They are a good reflection of you and your emotion, what you’re doing with the horse and how you’re doing it. Adam is currently working on a book called Cowboy Science. For more visit adamsutton.com.au DNA 71


FEATURE

The Cowboy

Nathan Osborne, 34 Wonga Beach, Queensland

DNA: As a gay teen, was riding escapism? Nathan: Not really. I didn’t come out until I was about 18 and I started riding a few years beforehand. I was riding every second weekend with my father out west of Sydney. I didn’t find many gay people in the riding world at that time, but the gay circle within horseriding is a lot bigger once you get out there – and out of the closet. I guess a lot of it is more on the equestrian side, though. What is it that attracts you to riding horses? It’s all about becoming one with the animal. Plus I get to see around Australia. I love it! What is your fondest memory of horse riding? I was about eight years of age, sitting on my uncle’s horse Jazz. I was sitting bareback. Are horses loyal? Definitely. I’ve had one for 19 years and he’s my best mate. There’s nothing better than running your horse freely down a track or the beach and feeling the wind in your hair – and all with your best mate! So tell us about your favourite stud horse. A stud horse is short for a stallion, which means they still have their balls, and you have to keep them separate from other horses. My stud horse’s full name is Anidapark Eagledance, but I call him Eagledance. He’s my best mate. He’s a paint stallion with blue eyes and I lease him out to people to service their mares. I get a surcharge for breeding. He’s a true stud! Anidapark? It stands for an American Indian tribal leader and Eagledance was also another chief Indian. When I bought him, I looked through the American Indian history and named him from that. I’ve always been fascinated with paint horses and they were always ridden by Comanche chiefs because of their colour. 72 DNA

Do you get labelled with the Brokeback Mountain tag? Yeah, from everybody! As soon as I tell them I’m a gay cowboy, everybody makes a reference to it. A lot of people nickname me Brokeback, but I like to call myself a cowboy with a difference. What did you think of Brokeback Mountain? The movie itself wasn’t too bad, but I thought the ending was pretty crappy. Being a love story, I would have liked to see the characters ending up happily together. Do horses ever drive you crazy? Some do. Horses are a lot like humans. You get the cheeky ones and the very smart ones. It’s the smart ones you have to be wary of, but the cheeky ones drive you mad! You have quite the life, riding through the Daintree Forest. I get to ride through two of Australia’s best wonders, The Daintree Forest and the Great Barrier Reef. It’s fantastic. The beach and the rainforest always look different. Is it true that cowboys don’t wear undies? Yep, that’s true! You’ve gotta freeball. When you wear undies on a horse, your balls sit in one position and if the horse steps one way and you slip in the saddle, you hit both of your nuts. If you’re freeballing, they hang side by side. All cowboys don’t wear undies and that is a true fact! Is there something manly and attractive about riding horses? I think the attraction of riding works for both sexes. Seeing a man in a tight pair of jeans and a cowboy hat getting all rough and sweaty – I think everyone likes to see that, whether they are gay or straight. It definitely turns me on! Why do you think girls and gay guys are attracted to horses, more than straight guys?

Gay guys and horses go well together because gay guys can pretty up their horses! But having said that, I know quite a few gay guys who are quite happy to get their hands dirty with a bit of oil. I guess most gay guys would prefer to ride a horse. They probably like the feeling of having a big piece of meat between their legs! What other horse work do you do? Outside of my equine management job I also do breaking, training and re-education of horses. So starting with horses from two to three years of age, I’m the first person who actually jumps on their back. It generally takes six to eight weeks to train a horse for the owner to be able to ride it and I also teach people how to ride. I do barefoot trimming farrier work. I don’t actually put the shoes on, but I file the horses’ feet, which is a pedicure. Do you ever bareback? [Laughing] I do bareback, all the time! When I’m breaking a horse in they have to be ridden bareback, before they get a saddle. How do you see the difference between English riding and Western riding? I’ve always had a bit of a saying that an English rider rides with a carrot stuck up his arse and a Western rider rides with a coat-hanger up his – meaning they ride quite wide with their arms, one hand on the reins, the other down beside and legs stuck out in front. Whereas an English rider is quite tight in their body, with the chest sticking outwards and both hands holding the reins. I’m a bit of both, it depends what I feel like on the day. Do you ever fall off the horse? I haven’t fallen off in 10 years, touch wood! But there is always a possibility when I’m breaking a horse in. What I’m trying to achieve is for the horse not to buck. Back about 10 years ago, people would try to buck the horse out, but that’s not good for the horse. If you are at one with the horse, it shouldn’t buck. Have you ever competed in a rodeo? No, I turn into a bundle of nerves in front of too many people. Having said that, I do the occasional bit of show riding in front of smaller groups. In fact, I recently did some trick riding at the Australian Muster Experience at Mialo. That’s riding without a bridle or saddle, with just a piece of rope around the horse’s neck. Do you have a favourite horse movie? Phar Lap. I get goosebumps every time I see the scene where the horse comes out of the truck, after running late, and the crowd roars. He was one in a million. Do you have a favourite horse quote? “Horses are predictably unpredictable.” For more on Ride The Beach visit beachhorserides.com.au


The Jockey/ Stuntman

Kevin Mangold, 43 Beverly Hills, California

Is riding therapeutic? Yes, I think all animals can be therapeutic. There have been times when my back has been hurting or I’ve had any number of aliments and the minute I was up on the horse they went away. Sometimes if I had a bad pain in my neck or back, I’d go into the stables and lean up against the horse and the heat would really help. Schools with disabled children use horses. There is something incredibly understanding between a horse and a human. What is your fondest childhood memory of being with horses? One of the foster homes I lived in had a huge quarter-horse named Dutch. He would stick his head in through the window of our house and try to eat my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches! I discovered he wasn’t harmful and was just like me. I would go out into the field and he would follow me and eventually I got to climb up on him without a saddle or bridle. Quite a lot of times I used to climb up on his back and walk around in the sun. After that I was with another family that had a pony named Harry and I used to race him around in little circles and pretend to be different people in my head. One minute I was a pony express rider and then I’d be a sheriff. Were horses a comfort in your teenage years in terms of being gay? I never really had the insecure thing, but what I did have was a lot of loneliness, being in foster homes and all. I didn’t feel like I had a family. I was often out in the middle of nowhere and didn’t have friends. The companionship of horses was wonderful for me. Are horses loyal? Absolutely. Oh man, I can give a million examples. They protect people. Even in races when you’re running down the straight

together, they will reach out and try to bite the other horse. They’re very competitive towards each other. I have had encounters where a horse was protecting me. I’ve even seen a horse hurt himself to avoid hurting people, and in the horseracing world we see that all the time. You’ve given up the racing side of things? I was in a pretty bad spill at Emerald Downs, Washington, while in a race and I got trampled by a couple of horses behind me. I broke my neck in three places and I broke my back in three places. So I was pretty messed up. It took me about six months to get back on a horse, but I eventually got back to riding. But what happened in the meantime was that I became involved in recognising all the injuries that happen to riders and to horses and I started doing a lot more acting and stunt work. I decided to stop riding and speak up about such things. Unfortunately, the trainers see me as a kind of enemy to the sport. I lost the majority of my business. You were a stunt double for Toby Maguire on Seabiscuit. What was that like? It was one of the better experiences I’ve had, not just in my career but in my life. It gave me a feeling of accomplishment and belonging, which I guess goes back to a lack of family in the past. I always wanted to be a part of a team or have brothers. With Seabuscuit we were a team and got to tour the country filming. It was five or six months of fun. It was an incredible experience. You’ve had roles in shows such as Saved By The Bell, Silver Spoons and Ellen – what was the Ellen experience like? She’s pretty cool. They shot the show twice, as they do with sitcoms, and the amazing thing about Ellen is that she does a warm-up for the start of the show, which they normally have

someone else do. But she did it all herself, and I noticed that her jokes would change and they were funny. Even during rehearsal, when we would have to do retakes, her punchlines would always be different and the audience would constantly laugh. There is something truly amazing and unique about her. She’s not just being funny, she is funny. I played a grizzly bear in the episode where she and Paige go to a health retreat to lose weight. And you also worked on Desperate Housewives with Eva Longoria? Yeah, I was a stunt double. She had to ride on the handlebars of a bicycle being ridden by a little kid. Being five feet tall, I can double for kids like that. You’re a passionate advocate for removing the cruelty from horse racing. That’s right and I don’t stay quiet when I see something wrong. I often bring trouble to myself by speaking up, but I also think I do a lot of good. If your house had a broken window, you don’t move out of the house, right? You fix the window. And I’m doing my best to point out broken windows in the horse racing industry. Unfortunately, I get treated like I’m some sort of enemy, but I’m not. I’m a friend to horses. If it happens to hurt the industry, then so be it. And the racing industry? What bugs me about the racing industry is the greed that seems to have taken over the racetrack. I know that cost-cutting measures are taking place everywhere, but they are dangerous in the world of racing. You must cop a lot of flack from within the industry because of that? It hasn’t helped my popularity among racing fans. Many see my efforts to improve horse racing as an attack on the industry. I may be attacking the industry but only to protect the horses and riders. There is a vast difference in the treatment and compensation for most other professional athletes when compared to jockeys. Football, baseball, basketball, water polo and underwater basket-weaving get more compensation for their efforts! And they are not asked to risk their lives many times a day. I’m currently working on a documentary in which I hope to tell the world what they don’t know about racing. It’s called The Apprentice Jockey. I feel that in America, the plight of the horse and horse racing is at a critical juncture. What’s your favourite horse movie? As a kid it was The Man From Snowy River. I remember how the packs of horses were so thrilling and liberating. Although, I think the most important horse movie is The Horse Boy, which is the story of an autistic boy and his relationship to horses and other animals. Do you have a favourite horse quote? “No philosophers so thoroughly comprehend us as dogs and horses,” by Herman Melville. DNA 73


FEATURE

THe POLO PLAYeR

Gabriel Csaszar, 31 Pascoe Vale, Victoria

DNA: What attracts you to riding horses? gabriel: I’ve always loved animals. It’s that unison between an animal and a human being. There’s something free about it. I think it also comes down to the speed. Do you find riding to be therapeutic? It can be. If I feel stressed and I hop on a horse it certainly is, but it’s almost a spiritual thing as well as being a leisure activity. What’s your earliest memory of riding horses? As a child I rode a pony at a fair. My dad took me to a stud farm when I was really young, back in Europe. I think I went around and around in circles, but it was the first time I can remember riding. What sparked your interest in polo? I’ve dabbled in a lot of equestrian sports and polo has always been one that attracted me. It seemed a bit esoteric and had that old-world charm to it. There’s an adventure and cavalier aspect that attracted me. It’s not just about riding, but participating in a group sport. A lot of the other equestrian sports are very solitary. Is polo gentlemanly or rough? A bit of both. It’s very glamorous-looking and an elegant sport, but it’s very rough as well. It can be quite brutal. A lot of the spectators 74 DNA

don’t always see that side to it. I haven’t played at the high levels yet, but at the professional levels it can be quite full on. It can be as rough as rugby. You can get a taste of it if you watch the Argentineans, for example. Is polo expensive to play? In general the equestrian discipline is expensive, but with polo you have to have access to a lot of horses. To play polo you have to have several mounts and they have to be rotated in a game. Every seven minutes you have to stop and change horses. If there are six chukka intervals in a game, that’s six horses you’ve used. Plus you have to have a couple of back-ups in case one goes lame. Are you a fan of polo player Nacho Figueras? I don’t think there’s a polo player out there that can’t acknowledge his enthusiasm for promoting the sport. I’ve been lucky enough to meet him. He’s a fantastic ambassador for polo and he probably got a lot of flack from his teammates for modelling. His dream is to get the sport broadcast on TV in much the same way as rugby. I don’t know if that will happen in our lifetime, but once upon a time it was quite a popular sport. The 1930s were the golden age for polo. The goal is to bring it back

to the Olympic Games and have it broadcast to a mainstream audience. It isn’t quite as elitist as people make out. It is expensive, but look at other sports like tennis, where you get professional coaching and travel the world. You’ve been involved with fox hunting. Many gay guys will think of Lucille Ball in Mame! [Laughing] Yeah, well it’s quite crazy with different levels of adrenaline involved, but there’s no cuddling of foxes! Have you ever taken a spill? Yes, thankfully not a serious one in polo, but I have in the fox-hunting fraternity. I ended up in the trauma ward where they had to make sure I didn’t have any spinal injury. I cracked a few ribs and had smacked my head into a tree at 40 miles [65 kilometres] per hour and blacked out! I had injury to my legs, wrists and sliced my chin open. I was very keen to get back on the horse, but in the following weeks I had also seen other colleagues have some serious accidents. It was an intense couple of weeks, as there was a series of unfortunate events that put some fear in me. As an adult I don’t think we are as resilient and forgetful as we are when kids. I think it’s almost as though someone had erased my riding level and I had to start from zero again. If the horse did something unexpected, I could get anxious and it took a long time for that to go away. In the back of my mind I still have that reminder, but it disappears because the pleasure from riding outweighs the fear. Do you have a favourite horse movie? Being Austrian, I’ve always had a high regard for the Lipizzaner horses that are trained at the Imperial Riding Academy in Vienna. Disney made a movie called The Miracle Of The White Stallion which is quite lovely. I also loved The Black Stallion as a kid and in recent times I quite liked Secretariat. How does a gay person fit within polo? I’m not very open about it, but at the same time I don’t have any hesitations in hiding my sexuality. It’s mostly boys and they are quite blokey, but I get on great with them all. There are a lot of gay people that do equestrian sports, but I think ultimately it’s your riding and ability as a sportsman that should be accessed over sexuality. Are horses loyal? Very much so. Particularly the mares, which is why they use them in polo. They work hard and are very forgiving and loyal. What is the best piece of advice you could give in regard to horses? There’s no secret that horses are very forgiving creatures, and you get a lot more out of them by being nicer than being rough. My advice is to hold on tight and stay on! Do you have a favourite horse quote? “There is no secret so close as that between a rider and his horse,” by Robert Smith Surtees.


THe eqUeSTRIAN

Clint Bilson, 41 Berwick, Victoria

DNA: As a teen coming to terms with being gay, was horse riding a form of escapism? Clint: It was, but in the world of showing horses being gay was almost expected. In fact, it was more a surprise if they weren’t. I wasn’t entirely out, but at horse shows most of the older guys around me were all gay. Most of the women with children showing horses also grew up with the gay guys, so it was a very gayfriendly lifestyle. So you could almost compare it to gay guys in the world of theatre? For sure. Our industry is like glamour and modelling. We turn the horses into the prettiest and nicest creatures with make-up and some end up with nail-polish on their hooves. It’s one of the reasons it attracts gay guys. It’s like going for a run down the catwalk. We live vicariously through our horses! What is your fondest childhood memory of being with horses? I used to enjoy the games that we’d play on horseback. When it wasn’t all so serious, we’d go down the beach and my friends and I used to tie a long lead around our ankles to the horse’s head collar and charge down the paddock against each other. We’d canter past and try and rip each other off. It was like medieval jousting! Are horses loyal? Oh, for sure. When you get a horse you like and you’ve had it for a long time, or sometimes even with a new horse, they all end up having

a special place for you. I love going down to the stables in the morning and hearing them all nay. They know I’m coming to feed them. I love them running up to me. They make me feel like I’m wanted. Do you have a favourite horse? His name is Swanee and his show name is Tu Park Alaska. What’s your favourite horse movie? Seabuscuit. He became a household name because he was a horse, rather than just a racehorse, just like Phar Lap. Have you ever fallen off? Yeah, quite a few times. The worst accident I’ve ever had was when I fell off and broke my neck. I broke it in five places and I was never supposed to walk again. But I never once throughout the whole recovery doubted that I would ride again. Believing that I would ride once more was what got me to where I am now. I had a lot of physio, a couple of fusions and many operations, but I knew that I would continue to ride and that got me through it. What awards have you won? I’ve been the champion rider at Royal Level on a few occasions. I’ve won a couple of Horse Of The Year titles and I also show Arabians and most of them have ended up champions. So it’s been pretty good. Are guys riding horses sexy? I’d have to say yes. There’s something about how people can look so comfortable on a horse that I like. Whether that’s a cowboy chasing

cows or a show-jumper, they can both look manly and great. How do you see the difference between english riding and Western riding? I guess we all want the same thing, for our horses to be obedient and to go as we require. I think the basic principles are all the same but there are different ways we go about getting it. I prefer the English training, but I also love going to the Sydney Easter Show and watching the stock-horse guys ride. They are so relaxed and their horses are amazing. With a name like Clint, are you compared to that famous Hollywood horseman? Yep, all the time [laughing]. People always associate my name to Eastwood, but I’ve also had Clunk and Clit! In fact, when I was a growing up, we lived in an area where our horse rugs would get stolen. So my mother bought us new horse rugs and decided to paint our names on them. My name painted with big bold capital letters from afar looked more like cunt than Clint! My mother was mortified! What’s the best piece of advice you could give about horses? Treat them as you’d like to be treated. Do you have a favourite horse quote? “If you have seen nothing but the beauty of their markings and limbs, their true beauty is hidden from you.” And also “Eleven-hundred pounds of raw muscle, power, grace and sweat between your legs – it’s something you just can’t get from a pet hamster!” DNA 75


Freedom Riders!