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Donald McGillivray - Horsebreaker


Entry from Australian Dictionary of Biography


McGILLIVRAY, DONALD (1855-1921), horsebreaker, was born in 1855 on a sheep station at Dartmoor, Victoria, second of six children of Scottish-born parents James McGillivray, grazier, and his wife Mary, née McIntosh. Donald was brought up on his father's property, Maaoupe Park, near Penola, South Australia, where he was privately educated by J. W. Ashley, B.A., from the University of Glasgow. At 18 he managed Murrabinna station, near Kingston, for Messrs Hutchison & Dunn, and, after experimenting on wild, unbroken horses, was soon dealing with large mobs of 'walers' for the Indian remount trade. He once handled 202 unbroken colts in three weeks. Six feet (183 cm) tall, weighing 14 stone (89 kg), McGillivray was 'active, muscular and proportionately well built'. On 1 September 1880 at Robe he married with Presbyterian forms Elizabeth ('Bessie') Hayes. They had five daughters.


Horse-breaking methods received much attention in Australia. The ideas of J. S. Rarey (1827-1866), demonstrated in Sydney and Melbourne in 1858, were in advance of previous practices and were taken up by such noted horsemen as Cuthbert Fetherstonhaugh and E. M. Curr.


In 1884 'Professor' H. Sample came to Australia from the United States of America and taught what he claimed was an improvement on Rarey's method. After watching a Sample demonstration in Melbourne, McGillivray was 'so surprised at . . . the small amount of knowledge to be gained from him for two guineas' that he decided to teach his own method for half the price. For the next fifteen years he gave demonstrations and advice on all aspects of horse management throughout eastern Australia. He estimated that he taught 'upwards of 24,000 pupils' and styled himself 'Professor McGillivray'.


In his treatise, Australian Horses from Paddock to Park (Sydney, 1902), he denounced the prevalent 'station method' where horses were broken in by 'hauling about', often in a brutal fashion. While he built on Rarey's and Sample's methods he also criticized them. He reckoned they were at their weakest at the most difficult stage of breaking in, catching the horse, although he owed more to Rarey than he cared to admit. Among the many devices he invented were a 'patent halter', a crush pen, a safety buggy strap and 'McGillivray's Rarey Strap'. Once asked by a 'smart alec' to reveal his secret equine recipe for two shillings and six pence, he wrote out: 'Oil of common sense, two drachms; oil of kindness, two drachms; clear, cool courage, two drachms; clear grit, two drachms; mix and apply in a small yard'!

Donald McGillivray,1855 – 1921


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