Real Life

REAL LIFE: A chance discovery of two wild brumbies changed this woman’s life … and she went on to save theirs

They'd helped me ... now I had to rescue them.
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Leslie Scott, 50, from Clunes, Vic shares her story with Take 5’s Mitchell Jordan:

Racing back home, I picked up the phone and called my husband, David.

“I think there are horses on the mount,” I said, barely able to contain my excitement.

David was suspicious – after all, wild brumbies didn’t live in Central Victoria, and he wanted to put a stop to any ideas I might be getting.

“We don’t have any room for new horses, Leslie,” he warned.

I could understand his concern.

Since leaving my job at the medical centre, I’d been struggling to figure out what to do next and, at 48 years old, feared a mid-life crisis was looming.

Leslie had always loved horses (Image: supplied)

With lots of free time but restrictions on where I could go due to COVID lockdowns, I’d taken my Jack Russell-cross-Chihuahua, Giz, out walking to Mount Beckworth in Central Victoria, hoping it would lift my spirits.

That’s when I first noticed horse manure and unshod hoof marks that made me wonder whether brumbies might be here after all.

For the next three weeks, Giz and I returned and kept seeing more evidence of horse tracks, but they were never fresh.

Then, one morning, when we set off at 7.30am, we found a mound of horse manure, still steaming in the crisp air.

Giz and I quickly set to following the fresh droppings dotting the landscape, wending our way through thick scrub.

Eventually, we reached a plateau that adjoined a ridge.

Looking around, I spotted a log-shaped object in the distance… could it be?

Leslie’s first sighting of the horses that would change her life (Image: supplied)

I used my camera to zoom in and saw it was a young bay horse lying down and, standing next to it, was an older dark grey horse.

The descent to them was difficult, but I got 200m away from the bay, who spotted me and stood up.

“Hey fella,” I began, “come on, come on.”

The pair soon took off in the opposite direction, but I wasn’t ready to give up.

Minutes later, the bay returned and looked into my eyes.

Now we’d shared this moment, the horse – who I noted was male – seemed calmed. I decided to name him Milo and called the older horse Lucy.

On subsequent visits I learned that Milo was curious about me, whereas Lucy was very standoffish.

Lucy and Milo at Base Camp (Image: supplied)

Yet by returning each day they both responded when I called: “Come on, fellas!”

These visits with Giz improved my mental health and, despite the uncertainty of the pandemic and what I was going to do with my life, I learned to live in the moment and cherish each second the horses stayed with me.

There was just one problem.

In Victorian High Country, it was government policy to shoot and kill brumbies as a last resort because, like deers and foxes, they are considered feral.

Should I let someone know what I’d found?

I mulled over the dilemma but one day on a visit I encountered a ranger who looked at me suspiciously; I couldn’t keep it to myself any longer.

Leslie with Milo (Image: supplied)

“I’ve found two loose horses up there,” I blurted, telling him the whole story.

“I’m committed to getting them to safety as gently as possible,” I added.

Thankfully, the ranger was on my side.

“We’ll support you however we can,” he said.

Even though David still insisted our four horses was enough, I vowed to get these brumbies to safety – especially when the springs on the mount were drying and they started entering a nearby property to find water.

After a bit of research, I found the Victorian Brumby Association, who agreed to help.

After seven months of bonding with them in the wild, I secured them in a yard and a member of the association helped get them onto a float.

With Milo (Image by Isphotography)

They were then taken back to the Victorian Brumby sanctuary, 45 minutes from the mount, where they were slowly domesticated.

I drove to them twice a week and they seemed to enjoy it: Milo certainly loved his pats and cuddles, while Lucy would edge as close to me as possible while staying clear of everyone else.

By now I was so attached that I didn’t like the idea of them being separated or sent to live with a stranger.

Now, if only I could convince David …

“We could probably have one more,” he conceded.

“I can’t live without them,” I said, careful to say ‘them’ because Lucy and Milo belonged together.

He thought about it. “I understand how you feel. I can see those horses mean a lot to you,” David noted.

And then came Quincy! (Image: supplied)

It was as close to a yes as I’d get!

In May 2021, I brought Lucy and Milo home, but this wasn’t the end.

I was desperate to know how two wild brumbies had ended up on the mount.

DNA testing revealed they weren’t related, and Lucy went on to have a foal, Quincy, with Milo as the dad.

Leslie has now published a book about the horses that changed her life (Image: supplied)

He looks just like his father!

I’ve recently returned to work in a pharmacy but have never forgotten my months of secret bonding with Milo and Lucy.

The experience led me to write a memoir, Once Were Wild, (Allen & Unwin) to show how these wild horses transformed me into a person who could slow down and enjoy what’s right in front of me.

They’re two very special animals who changed my life.

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