nly a week ago, with the Spring Carnival around the corner, a striking four-year-old roan stallion named Scotty from a famous stable was doing exceptional work at Flemington.
However, we suggest you don’t put a cracker on him. Now he’s in Victor Harbor. Clockers suggest it wasn’t so much his times that put him out of Cups contention, just the fact they’d struggle to fit him in the starting gates. Scotty is a Clydesdale, and he has joined some real favourites to clip-clop over the causeway to Granite Island.
Like two of his new stablemates Albert, who is pictured right in his photo-finish pose, and Jay Jay, Scotty was broken in by Shane Patterson, son of well-known thoroughbred and harness horseracing trainer John, near Flemington.
Given that Victor Harbor first had a Clydesdale pulling a tram over to Granite Island in 1894, and it is now much cheaper to source them rather than have a breeding program, the arrival of Scotty is hardly big news to some. But it should be.
A tourist recently told Adrian Cox, who leads this team with the help of nine remarkably dedicated part-time workers, of how she saw our horsedrawn tram on German television. The only reason she came to South Australia was to have a ride over to Granite Island.
If you think that’s remarkable, in recent years a number of local primary schoolchildren told Adrian they never knew about the horsedrawn tram until their teacher took them out for the day as part of a history excursion.
Victor Harbor now has eight magnificent Clydesdales with Scotty joining the other much-loved team members in Elliot, Isabella, Karni, Misty and Murray stabled off the Ring Road.
You may think Scotty probably stood there at Flemington at the chill of dawn and dreamed of being one being one of those nearby mega-dollar thoroughbreds, but like his new pals, on any given day he becomes one in 58 million.
That’s the estimated number of horses on this planet, but only Victor Harbor has one pulling a horsedrawn tram virtually every day of the year. This is unique – Douglas Bay on the Isle of Man has a similar tourism feature but it runs only three months of the year. Also, ours leads to one of only two places in the world where steam trains meet up with paddlesteamers, at the River Port of Goolwa.
Adrian has sensed the apathy since first working with the horses as a full-time employee of the City of Victor Harbor nine years ago, but focuses on their care and the reason behind all of this – tourism. To him, and the part-timers, these Clydesdales are their workmates.
“We source the Clydesdales because we don’t have the infra-structure to do the early work with them,” Adrian said. “We like to get them at three or four and unbroken so they have no bad habits.
“John was harnessing Scotty like a pacer or trotter around the streets of Melbourne and the trucks trains and trams going past were no problem.
“They are not always easy to train. It takes time and patience. It’s a matter of introducing them to each aspect slowly until they are comfortable with it, and then going on to the next step.
“They are like people; all different. Some try and get away with doing things, others will charge ahead.
“Initially, they are trained to pull a cart, which is so much different to pulling a tram. With a cart they feel weight and they have shafts each side of them, whereas with the tram they have chains that swing.
“We teach them not to pull with a lot of effort, just walk into the weight and just walk through using their own body weight. It is so easy to push the tram… Chelsea, one of the girls who works here, is tiny and she pushes two trams out when they are connected. That’s nine tonne of weight, but they roll so easily by just putting your body against it.”
Adrian said the tourists, especially those from overseas, love the horses and the tram. “They tell me I have got the best job in the world, and I feel that way too,” he said.
“It’s great on a nice day, but we go out there when it’s cold… while everyone is warm inside I am standing there talking to a horse. Actually, I talk to them a lot; it’s part of building the relationship. They don’t understand you, well, I don’t think so anyway.
“It’s a unique job. Everyone here has worked with horses so they are used to getting up in the dark and starting early. Like me, they love every moment. The job has so many personal rewards if you love animals.
“I always say to those who want to work here that it’s not an animal job, it’s a people job. Our job is to meet and greet people and promote Victor Harbor. That’s the purpose of what we do. It is unique and so important for this town.”
Eliza Fergusen, one of the part-timers working here, said each of the Clydesdales had their own character. “Some are more stubborn,” she says with a smile. “Some are grumpy in the morning and don’t won’t to do this or that because they are too busy eating, and then they’re fine. Karni and Elliot are always happy.”
And according to Adrian, Misty is nice, but she thinks she’s in charge, and don’t even think about changing her routine.
Actually, this all sounds like some households, but for Scotty it’s a different life to once being nearby thoroubreds he left behind at Flemington. Maybe when Adrian is having one of his in-depth conversations Scotty will tell him who is going to win the Melbourne Cup. And Scotty will think, gee, a talking man. Forgive the attempted wit, but you’ve got to see the brighter side of our horsedrawn tram.