For the next few years I continued travelling around the country promoting the two albums, ‘Smack Bang!’ and ‘Heatwave’ whilst breaking and training horses between gigs. It was a great experience, however the extensive travel was taking its toll.
With a young family, we decided to put the music aside so we could concentrate on the horse side of the business with ‘Riverboyne Horsebreaking and Training’ and ‘Riverboyne Performance Horses.’ We had recently purchased a lovely Acres stallion by the name of ‘Acres of Ra’ who we planned to train, and breed Campdrafting and challenge horses. Although it was a squeeze on our budget, we bought a 20-acre property and relocated our family from Kingaroy in Queensland to Katherine in the Territory, just 6 kilometres out of town with the knowledge there was a good annual supply of horses to be trained from surrounding stations. Our vision was to build key infrastructure at the site and encourage surrounding cattle stations to send horses to our venue to be broken-in and trained rather than driving or flying all over the countryside. It gave us some stability and meant the kids could go to school in town. Things were going well and we were getting 10 horses a month to break and train. That was until the Labor Government’s knee-jerk Live Export Ban in June 2011.
The domino effect of the Live Export Ban was insurmountable, not only for the beef industry, but for rural towns and local businesses. Almost overnight stations were forced to cut budgets and make workers redundant as there was no longer a market for cattle and therefore no income. For us, this meant there were no horses to be broken-in.
A regional town like Katherine is full of small businesses dependent on its beef industry hinterland including stock agents, hay producers, feed merchants, cattle transporters, fuel providers, mechanics and vets to name a few. We were all feeling the pinch and people were losing jobs and livelihoods as a result.
With a sizeable mortgage, a young family and no foreseeable income in the short-term future, we had no choice other than to diversify or sell at a time where there was no longer a local housing market (another fall-out credited to the Live Export Ban).
To help with cash flow, we started offering riding lessons for kids and adults, and I started singing three nights a week at the Big 4 Caravan Park in town. There’s no question, it was tough going, we were “chewing like hell” to keep our heads above water at a time when many others had no other choice but to simply pack-up and leave with nothing.
It was whilst I was singing at the Big 4 Caravan Park that an old couple approached me about watching a horse being broken-in. To engage crowds during gigs, I would often reminisce about stock camp mischief or a problematic horse. The couple explained there were limited opportunities for tourists to access stations and experience what they considered to be the “real outback.” So the following day the couple came out to our home and watched me working with the breakers. It was here the idea for ‘Katherine Outback Experience’ was born.
As one door closed, another opened.