JAN 2023



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JAN 2023
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A Few Words



Ryan's Rave












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Timmy with owner Jemima Key. Image supplied.

When Jemima Key was first smitten by a sad little grey pony facing an uncertain future, little did she know what she was in for and who would end up teaching who on their tortuous path to Equitana’s Liberty Championships.

I couldn’t believe I was being bullied
and terrorised by an 11-hand pony!”

“Why did I enter the Liberty Championships at Equitana? To be honest, my number one goal was simply to have our application accepted! I wanted to be able to gloat and tell people that I took my pony from basically being dead to performing at Equitana; it was only after we’d been accepted that the reality of the situation started to sink in.”

Jemima Key is laughing as she reflects on the thought process that resulted in the highly entertaining performance Timmy Trumpster – an 11-hand rescue pony – and she delivered as competitors in the inaugural Liberty Championships at Equitana 2022.

While it could be argued that theirs was not the most polished or athletic display of horse and human harmony to grace the Grand Pavilion over Equitana’s four-day program, it would be nigh on impossible to suggest any other duo scored more laughs and cheers from the crowd of horse lovers who delighted in the sheer joy and sense of fun the pair exuded.

Most onlookers at the Melbourne Showgrounds had never heard of Timmy Trumpster until they saw him perform at Equitana – and they could be forgiven for thinking he was just another cheeky grey pony with a mind of his own – every horse person seems to know one! Yet for those who have followed Timmy’s story since Jemima forked out $320 to save him from a grim fate when he found himself at the saleyards in 2017, the performance was extra special. It was a celebration of being alive; an outcome very few who knew the struggles Timmy has faced in the past five years would have placed a bet on.

Jemima never planned to rescue a pony. Yet in 2017, a scared and sad looking pony appeared on her Facebook newsfeed, and she felt compelled to help him. “If I wanted to gloss it up, or if I was writing his book, I’d say something like ‘he called to me’. But really, I couldn’t tell you why I authorised someone I’d never met to bid on my behalf on a horse I’d never seen,” Jemima muses. “I saw the picture of him and thought he looked so pathetic and miserable, and that he might be a nice project. Being so small, I thought he’d be easy to deal with, and the next thing I knew he was mine.”

The warm fuzzy glow of the good deed was short-lived; Timmy was delivered to Jemima’s farm and the transporter was quick to warn her that the seemingly helpless pony was a force to be reckoned with. “He said, ‘You have to watch out for this horse, he’s vicious’. And I was thinking, ‘Please, he’s only 11 hands high, how bad can he be?’ As we were approaching Timmy he said, ‘I mean it, this horse is really aggressive! Look, watch me try and pick up his feet.’ Tim went absolutely bananas – he didn’t try to run away like horses do when they’re upset, instead he was trying to bite and kick us,” Jemima recalls. “It was at that moment I first thought, ‘What have I done?’”

It was a recurring thought for Jemima many times in the coming months; so much so that she genuinely considered end-of-life options for her troubled new pony. “He was a terrorist! I couldn’t believe I was being bullied and terrorised by an 11-hand pony!” Jemima recalls. “I remember thinking, ‘Oh well, he’s ancient, he won’t be with us for too long, but then when I got his teeth done I learned that he was only about nine or 10 and thought, ‘Oh no, now I am stuck with this pony who could hurt me or hurt someone else’.


“He was ruining my life – he was such a menace – but I couldn’t possibly send him back to the sales, and when I faced the option of having him put down I had an attack of the conscience or something like that, I just couldn’t do it,” Jemima continues. “I didn’t know what to do with him but I realised he had to do something, so I decided I’d just try and put him in long reins and see if I could do that with him. I had to have the lunge ropes very long so I wasn’t in the kicking zone, and some poly pipe to ensure I kept some teeth in my head – it was very dangerous to be behind him – but away we went!

“The moment he got a job, he turned a corner. I often hear people say horses need a job, which I don’t tend to agree with – most are actually happy just being a horse in the paddock,” Jemima explains. “But he would stand with his head over the fence staring at the house while the other horses were in the back paddock, eyeballing me. So I went from long-reining because that’s all I knew to do with him, to breaking him to harness, and he became quite cool really quickly. He’s certainly not an affectionate pony at all, but he became interested and has not tried to kick me once since then!”

Unfortunately, while Timmy’s behaviour had made a turn for the better, his health started to decline. Purchased in a drought, he was easily managed during the first year or two when grass was barely existent; once the rain came, so too did laminitis, and no conventional treatment methods seemed to help him.

“All the normal things just didn’t work. For about a year I tried to manage him with drugs, a restricted diet, and restricted exercise,” Jemima explains. “It didn’t help him. Eventually with better hoof trimming and by encouraging movement, his laminitis became manageable, but he was still clearly unwell.”

As Jemima explains, once she was better equipped to manage Timmy’s laminitis, it became the least of his concerns as other issues came to the fore. He suffered an impaction colic that took around two weeks to clear, and was still not healthy once it had resolved.

“I was ready to put him down so many times; he had laminitis, Cushings, and insulin resistance amongst other things, and some days he just couldn’t get up, he was in so much pain. He would lie down with his mouth open like a corpse, and wouldn’t get off the ground; I was constantly asking myself whether he’d had enough and whether the right thing was to let him go, but every time I booked that in he would pick up and I would let him fight another day.”


Working with some of Victoria’s top vets to get to the bottom of Timmy’s health issues, Jemima was about to discover that diagnosing her small pony came with its own unique set of challenges. All tests were coming back clear or inconclusive, and eventually the decision was made to take Timmy to Werribee for a full body scan.

“By that stage we were up to about $30K in vet bills, and I thought that as we’d gone that far, we weren’t going to stop when we could be so close to figuring out what it was. I wanted to know if he had a giant tumour or something like that, so I could call it rather than making him suffer any longer. If we knew what was wrong, then it would be easier to make the decision, so we just kept trying one more thing,” Jemima recalls. “But when we went to the fancy scanning machine, we found out he’s too little to go in one of those. They’re made for racehorses, not 11-hand ponies!

“A further complication in Timmy’s diagnosis was his skin pigmentation. Underneath his grey fur, he’s like a little speckled pig, he’s got pink and white freckles. That particular pigmentation renders ultrasound results useless, so the vets were unable to perform an abdominal scan or extract a spinal fluid sample.”

Yet the trip to Werribee was not wasted. When the vet tried to lift Timmy’s head to place it in the scanning machine, he noticed an anomaly in how his eyes rolled. One rolled back normally into his skull when his head lifted, while the other rolled out to the side. There was a chance that Timmy had an infection in his brain fluids, yet as he was too small to go in the machine, they couldn’t test his cerebral fluids for infection. Jemima’s options were to either put him down as he was so unwell by this point, or try antibiotics and see if they worked – she chose the latter, and it paid off – eventually!

“The antibiotics fixed him. He’s had to go back on them three times due to recurrences, and the second time, the infection was so bad that it popped the fat pad out the corner of his eye, which is really nice to wake up to. It was like a prolapse, there was that much pressure on his brain, out popped a lump somewhere between the size of a grape and a plum. For nine months, he had what looked like a meatball hanging out of his eye, because the vets would not operate until his infection had cleared. It never ends with Timothy!” Jemima laughs.

By June 2022, Timothy had undergone eye surgery and seemed to be back to full health, terrorising Jemima’s other horses and galloping around the paddock. “He was back to being quite alpha again, which was a good sign, but it also meant I had to start doing something with him again or he’d turn laminitic. He needs 30 minutes of exercise a day to stay healthy, so I thought liberty work could be a good way to keep him fit,” Jemima explains.


“The Equitana plan sort of grew from there. I’d done bits and pieces of clicker training in the past with him. Timmy could do a Spanish walk – mind you, only one leg participated in the Spanish walk, one very enthusiastic left leg and nothing else. I’d also done a bit of free lungeing with him, so I could sort of circle him around. But mostly he taught me.

“Clicker training is really cool. There will always be some anti-clicker-training people because it is quite different to the standard negative reinforcement methods of horse training. Clicker training is all about positive reinforcement and that’s a very different way of getting the horse involved. If they’re remotely expressive, when they get excited about wanting to play, they start offering some fun stuff,” Jemima enthuses. “Sometimes if I was ignoring Tim, he would start offering some weird behaviour with his legs, so I would click, which captures the natural behaviour so they can then learn to perform it on cue. Rearing was easy for him because he spends a lot of his time on his back legs anyway, fighting the bigger horses. So, I knew that a rear would be easy for him because it is part of his behaviour, whereas lying down, well he’s such a dominant personality that it was not something he was going to feel compelled to offer.”

Jemima is quick to admit that once she saw the calibre of the other competitors in the Equitana Liberty Challenge, it confirmed her fear that her repertoire of tricks was quite small, but she was determined to put on a good show nonetheless.

“As it was the first time a liberty challenge has been included in the Equitana program, I didn’t know much about what I had in store. In my head existed this idea that the Liberty Championships would be held in one of the demo sand arenas that are smaller than the typical arena you would work in at home. So even at liberty, the horses wouldn’t be too much further away from you than they would be on the lunge. The idea of being in the Grand Pavilion was not part of the plan at all. I thought Timmy would just sort of be the token cute little pony, and he would do some tricks in an arena that was too small to run away from me in, and that would be that!” Jemima laughs.

“Then when we were accepted, bit by bit I started paying attention to the information coming through, such as the routine needing to be eight minutes long. That’s two-and-a-half songs! So I got to work on music and costume ideas,” Jemima explains. “If you Google or look up liberty shows on YouTube, nine out of 10 of them use the Frozen theme song, and often the girls come out wearing tutus, or dressed as fairies, and there’s definitely a lot of tulle – tulle is an absolute requirement!


“Everything’s flowing and ladylike, and I thought it would actually be really cool to come in like that and have everyone thinking, “Oh, cute little white pony, it’s all so ladylike’, but then I’d bust into some Eminem! But eight minutes is even longer than that, so I needed something additional, that’s when Tina Turner somehow made her way into the show. The start of Simply The Best – you can’t just sit there placidly listening to that song – even the most miserable person in the world has to have a bit of a shoulder jiggle when it starts playing. I decided that our liberty prowess was probably going to be suboptimal, but we would put on a good show – there would even be outfit changes!” Jemima laughs.

“So out we went, me in my pale blue Frozen inspired robe, while Tim was snow white with glitter all over him and hair extensions. We were very whimsical! I was also wearing a tarp cape that would eventually be clipped on to Timmy’s roller so he could do a few laps in canter with it flowing out behind him, looking very lovely,” Jemima explains. “Of course, Tim didn’t actually do that in the show, he went off and did his own thing.

“Then the music switched to Tina Turner and I got to fling off my stupid Elsa robe and reveal my outstanding one-shouldered mullet outfit underneath. By this stage Tim was really off on his own adventure, so I had to run after him,” Jemima laughs. “Not only did I have to run, I had to stay in character, thinking on my feet about how Tina would dance and run at the same time. The crowd were in hysterics by this stage. I was pretty much running around after my horse and then I’d sort of stop, bust out some dance moves, and then resume running after Timmy, all the time thinking my pants were about to fall down and wondering if my one-shouldered dress top was going to hold everything in for much longer!

“Even in my ultimate moments of humiliation I could hear people laughing and it really was the friendliest laugh. It was like we were putting on a comedy show,” Jemima recalls. “It would have been nice if it was poetic and we ended in perfect harmony, but we didn’t. The last section of our performance was his obstacles session, he had a jump and a pedestal. I had put some white string around his neck so in case of emergency I could pull the white string subtly. But by the end, he just was not having a bar of anything, so I was just getting him over the jump by the power of the string. Usually he loves standing on his pedestal, but by that stage he was just looking everywhere else and there was not a chance he would cooperate. And I kept putting my hand up in a way to signal defeat, hoping this would prompt the music man to cut the music and the announcer to jump in and ask the crowd to put their hands together for Timmy and Jemima. But every time I put my hand up, people would cheer, almost as though they thought I wanted them to cheer me on for not being able to do stuff!”

Jemima is still on a high as she reflects on her Equitana experience, full of praise for the other amazing competitors in the Liberty Challenge, and keen to keep developing Timmy’s skills.

“He’s my teacher, because
he makes me learn the hard way.”


“The most positive takeaway from Equitana was actually completing the goal, I’m not always great at that. Being part of something as fabulous as Equitana was really fun, it was just so well organised and the buzz was excellent. There was even a man there that reversed your float into where it was supposed to go!” Jemima enthuses.

“It was really fun to go on the Equitana adventure with Timmy, but the other thing that’s been really nice is the comments I’ve received from people saying that it has encouraged them to do stuff with their ponies. I think that’s really cool, because there are a lot of ponies out there that aren’t doing much – the kids have grown up or moved on, or whatever the case may be – the ponies get tucked in a paddock somewhere and aren’t living the greatest lives,” Jemima explains. “So there have been a few people that have contacted me that are interested in doing something similar to what I do with Tim, and not all of them are pony owners, some are simply looking for something to do with their horses that aren’t ridden for whatever reason.

“The best thing that could come out of our Equitana experience would be a way to help find opportunities for the otherwise useless horses; like the ones that have a career ending injury at three years old and the person doesn’t want to put them down but also wonders what on earth they’re going to do with a big horse that’s going to sit in a paddock for the next 30 years!

“I got into this to help Timmy, but at the end of the day, everything I’ve done with him has benefitted the rest of my horses too,” Jemima says. “Prior to learning about liberty, lungeing was the only unmounted form of exercise that I knew how to do with my big horses. It’s nice to now have a bag of tricks up my sleeve so that if the weather’s ordinary or I can’t ride, there’s something else that I can do. I can go out and do 20 minutes or half an hour of liberty work, and it’s actually fun! No-one ever says, ‘Oh, I went out and lunged my horse for half an hour and it was so much fun!’”

As for Timmy’s next adventure, Jemima is considering all options, and keen to keep working on his repertoire of liberty tricks. “He needs to stay busy. I would love for him to just be a horse, which he is for 23 hours a day, but for him to stay alive he needs to be exercised,” Jemima explains. “I’ll definitely keep doing liberty work, but I’d also love to find a brave little person to take him eventing! Apparently he’s only in his mid teens, so if he stays healthy I’ll be stuck with him for a while yet and it’s only a matter of time before I come up with his next project.”

“He’s the most expensive $320 I’ve ever spent in my life. I don’t even want to think about how much he has cost in vet bills; his hoof boots are $300 a pair, he needs special hay and medication, he needs a special yard and he needs to be turned out on a track system. The whole thing is expensive, except I will say that nearly everything, except for the hoof boots, then gets filtered down to my other horses,” Jemima continues. “The track system that had to be set up for him now benefits the others, just as learning to trim and learning about laminitis management now benefits the others. He’s my teacher, because he makes me learn the hard way and it’s for the benefit of every other horse that I’ll ever come across.” EQ


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