(With Thanks to guest blogger Simone Kerwin)
JULIAN Corboy occasionally allows himself a wry grin as he pulls into the Wangaratta racecourse car park early in the morning.
The South Wangaratta resident muses that he could take his pick from a range of reserved spaces, as his equine industry involvement has ranged from track rider to steward, and just about everything in between and beyond.
His work life has taken him from riding track work and trying his hand at bull riding, to spending time on North Queensland cattle stations, working in horse stables interstate and abroad, and even enjoying a gig as a groom for a flight company.
While many and varied, all these experiences have centred on his love for horses. But it’s in his current role, as master farrier, that the 36 year old father of five believes he’s found his calling.
Despite the fact it requires him to rise before dawn and work steadily, sometimes until 8pm, every day but Sunday, Julian said the satisfaction the job delivered was worth the hours of toil under horses, and over his anvil and blazing blacksmith’s forge.
“Your work should be a vocation, and you should really enjoy it. It takes a long time to really find your vocation, and I think I’ve found it,” he said.
“You suck adrenalin from whatever you can. At one time, bull riding was great for the adrenalin, but then also, sitting on a horse in the outback for hours on end was gratifying as well. I get a lot more enjoyment out of this now; shoeing horses and making a difference in a horse’s life, in the rider’s life, is probably the best.”
Julian is one of a few farriers in the area working in the traditional hot-shoe manner, creating shoes over his forge to match the hooves of horses undertaking a range of activities, from racing to dressage, show jumping to western pleasure, and for draught horses like Clydesdales, to suit different seasons.
“Normally a horse would be out in the paddock with his head down, eating grass, but when we want them to do an activity, we’re asking them and their body to do more than what is natural.”
“We just put measures in place to ensure we get a good hoof; the old saying goes, ‘No hoof, no horse’. That’s basically why horses are shod. We don’t do it just because we can, it’s to save the foot from wearing out too quickly, or they go sore and you can have a lot of other problems,” he said.
“When a horse has grip and it’s asked to do something more than what’s usual, when a horse feels as though it can do it because it’s got a good set of shoes on, you’ll get 20 per cent more effort out of your horse. It’s all about increasing a horse’s confidence and making them comfortable, and the rest is up to the rider.”
Having seen different approaches to his trade during his travels overseas, Julian would love the same requirements for farriers in Australia that are in place in the UK, where it is an offence to shoe a horse unregistered.
“People have good intentions, but it can end up costing them more if they don’t do it correctly the first time. I’m one of the few who is qualified. I can’t emphasise that enough. I can’t do all of them, but I do recommend people have a good look at who’s under their horse, to avoid problems,” he said.
“The Victorian Master Farriers Association would be the first point of call for anyone looking for a farrier. Registered farriers are the only ones on that list.
“We’d like to see education by horse owners to do their research and make sure that the person under their horse knows what they’re looking at. A lack of knowledge of the equine anatomy and the lower limb, and incorrect trimming and application of shoes, can cause a lot of problems in joints and knees and upper body. It’s like orthotics in shoes, like podiatry, it’s the same thing.
“It is encouraging to see young people getting involved in the trade. I have a fourth year apprentice now who has really put the hours in; it’s important people do the trade so they understand properly what they are doing…….”
Caring for horses has been a major part of Julian’s life since he was very young, having grown up as one of 10 children in a Warrnambool racing family.
“My earliest memory is from about the age of six or seven, when I used to go to my uncle’s stables with my brother, Adrian. I was keen to help out so I could get that little gold coin and go to the shop and get a bag of lollies,” he said.
“And I remember I rode a Shetland from Warrnambool to Dunkeld with my family on a family ride, I think I was about 10; it took a couple of days, and I enjoyed every minute of it.”
Despite the love of horses kindled in childhood, Julian said like people, there were always animals that proved difficult to deal with.
“I don’t like all of them; some of them aren’t very nice. There’s one a week I sort of have to avoid, I’ve been kicked nearly a million times,” he said.
“But the worst thing you can do with a troublesome horse is get upset – you just go and make a cup of tea and come back to it, or you waste your time and energy. Don’t go to war with a 500kg animal – it can outweigh you and outsmart you. Get along with it.”
In his 20s, Julian had aspirations to be a jockey, “but I was too heavy, so I was more of a track rider”. Around that time, he was riding 10 horses a morning in track work at Wangaratta, and then jumping on bulls at the weekend.
It was at the Wangaratta track that he met his future wife, Ludivine, who was also riding track work and building on the knowledge of equine health developed in her native France. Julian describes his wife as “the business brains” of their partnership – “she does all the books, is very clever – and she’s a great cook”.
“It wasn’t until I met Ludivine that I thought I’d better get focused on life and turn my knowledge into a business, and during that period I worked under Des Gleeson and Terry Bailey as a steward. I learnt a lot of people skills, and about working with sources and gaining information. The biggest thing I probably learnt was conflict resolution,” he said.
While he said he had “always been under a horse shoeing it”, it wasn’t until 2010 that Julian decided he would pursue farriery and become qualified. He trained with a master farrier in Benalla, as well as others around Australia, over four years to develop the skills and knowledge in horse handling and anatomy that he had picked up throughout his life. He is currently completing a diploma with the Worshipful Company of Farriers in the UK.
“I’ve also competed as a farrier blacksmith in Victoria and NSW, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience of being able to share and gain knowledge by brushing shoulders with other really good farriers from around the globe,” he said.
Julian honours the tradition of his trade in his workshop, with an unofficial memorial to World War 1 blacksmith farrier Merv Harris, whose tools and belongings he acquired when the man passed away.
“I was trimming a pony for a guy who used to look after him, and his name came up, and I said, look, I’d be happy to take his old tools and just hang them up, have a picture here,” he said.
The collection includes a cat’s head hammer, which Merv brought back from his time as a farrier in Turkey during World War 1.
Julian and Ludivine have passed on their love of horses to their five children, Jean-Baptiste (10), Francesco (8), Patrick (6), Kathleen (4) and Daniel (2). They all enjoy the company of the family’s gypsy cob horse, and their donkey, Morton – “a bit of a mascot” who’s fond of Guinness and is “the life of the party”.
“Jean-Baptiste has Down Syndrome, and he’s not walking, so for him to be able to ride the donkey is a big thing, it’s good for his strength. He’s also got a pony he rides. Franceso is a very keen rider and has a lot of natural ability. Kathleen’s still learning, and Patrick’s the same as Francesco, they just go for it, it’s just part of them,” Julian said.
Julian is gradually developing his business infrastructure on the South Wangaratta property where the family has been based for the past two years, in a “horsey area” handy to the racecourse and many of his local clients.
And the stream of work is steady. He rises each morning “at the crack of dawn”, milks the family’s cow, and enjoys a coffee before heading to the racetrack each weekday and Saturday morning to check in with trainer brother Adrian and tend to any horses that need to be shod.
“He’s got me 24/7 on call for any problems, and now that he’s working nearly 100 horses, it’s good to be able to assist him. He pre-trains for some very prominent trainers, and I like to be a part of helping him,” he said.
“I do have a great passion for racing, and I love seeing my clients get a winner, especially my brother. That’s never going to leave. Being able to help a horse through an injury is an advantage too. Lately I’ve been able to work with a number of vets on some pretty serious cases, and we’ve had some success.”
From the track, Julian heads off to see other clients, and from about midday, his out- of -town clients bring their horses to be shod.
“It’s a very, very busy trade. If it’s pouring rain, I’m making shoes, if it’s undercover, I’m shoeing a horse; there’s no way to escape work, you’ve just got to keep going, otherwise it will build up. I go away for about 10 days a year, and I pay for it. But it is worth it, because you’ve got to have a break – family comes first,” he said.
The Corboy children are also developing an interest in their dad’s work, and Patrick has his own anvil, though knowing the hard work involved, Julian said he’d be “very happy for him to be a dentist or a doctor or a surgeon” rather than follow in his footsteps.
“But to have a trade where my son can make a sword, that’s pretty cool,” he said.
When things get tough, and the work does build up, Julian relies on another strong conviction, his faith, to get him through.
“I come from a traditional Roman Catholic background, and I’m very, very proud of that. It’s been a big part of my life, my faith, for sure.”
” It gives me an incentive to suffer a bit when you’ve got to work hard, to offer it up if it’s a bit hard – that’s how I look at it. That becomes a prayer, doesn’t it? You think, ‘When am I going to find a time to pray?’, well, you are. Your work becomes a prayer,” he said.
Surrounded by animals and land in South Wangaratta, Julian said the family enjoyed all the region had to offer.
“After travelling so much, the North East is probably my favourite place, just because of the climate, the volume of horses; you just see horses do better up here because you get warm days in winter and the climate’s a lot better for horses.”
“My wife, being from the south of France, finds this region fairly similar to where she’s from. I’ve always come back to the North East, though I’m a salty at heart; I love the beach. I miss the sea breeze, but this is home for now,” he said.
(This story first appeared in ‘North East Living’ Magazine. The next issue will appear shortly.)