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A passion for horses

David and Heather Pascoe were born and bred in the horse business. Their path towards Plaintree Farms – and their eventual partnership in the horse business – took a long time to happen, however.

In one sense, it was partly geographical: they came from different ends of Queensland – Heather from a family station near Julia Creek in the far North West, David from a family veterinary practice on the Darling Downs in the South East.

Ironically, they attended Queensland University at the same time, visited each other’s University Colleges, shared mutual friends – but did not actually meet for twenty years.

In the end, it was horses that brought them together.

David Pascoe

David Pascoe doesn’t remember a time when he wasn’t surrounded by horses. His father was a young veterinarian who had opened a practice in Oakey back in 1952 with the grand vision that one day, it would become a world class veterinary hospital. Over the next 50 years, Dr Reg Pascoe did exactly that, and his son David became part of the profession from the time he sat in his pram.

David He grew up surrounded by the reproduction, medicine and surgery and school pocket money came from caring for horses, feeding horses and cleaning boxes.

The Pascoe family has made a remarkable contribution to the International and the Australian veterinary profession. While Dr Reg Pascoe established a world renowned reputation for surgery and dermatology, two of his four sons also decided to become veterinarians: David became an internationally renowned reproduction specialist while his brother John – a former leading equine surgeon at Davis in California – later became Executive Dean of the Vet School.

During his extensive career, David worked in Newmarket, Western Australia, Florida and California, where he spent seven years doing his residency and PhD. His research has focused on twin pregnancies, infertility in broodmares and embryo transfers.

Along the way, David worked with some of the legends in the profession, including Professor John Hughes, Professor Bob Kenny and Professor Woodie Asbury. He has addressed the International Reproduction Symposium, the British Equine Veterinary Association, the Bain Fallon and New Zealand Veterinary Association.

David is also an Adjunct Professor of the University of Queensland and Oakey Veterinary Hospital is responsible for teaching the equine course to fifth year veterinary students.

David is currently involved in some exciting research that promises new and better ways for the breeding business.

Heather Pascoe

For Heather Pascoe’s family, horses were everything. Back in 1900, her grandfather NH Brown and his brother Reg bred outstanding polo ponies and picnic racehorses on their stations in western NSW.

NH Brown In 1912, they traveled north to the vast plains of Queensland to buy big stations in Australia’s North. The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 changed their plans, and Reg Brown volunteered for the Light Horse with Dipso, his favorite picnic racehorse, and set sail for the Middle East. He rode in the charge of Beersheba and was later awarded the Military Cross. He was killed in France in 1918 at the end of the War, and NH Brown named his baby son in honour of his brother.

In 1923, NH Brown purchased a station in the North called Nonda Downs, and moved his family North by ship, horse-drawn wagon, and horse-back.

The horse would remain their friend and companion while they pioneered the station. They used stock horses to muster sheep and cattle, to ride the vast distances checking waters and fences. They bred their own big Percheron–cross horses to pull scoops and help build vast dams for water and pull the wagons to take the wool out from the shearing shed. They also imported thoroughbred stallions from Sydney to breed stock horses and picnic horses for the local race meetings.

Thoroughbreds always remained the one great passion of NH Browns life. He had already won the Futurity Stakes and the Carrington Stakes in Sydney with Grecian Orator before he left to go north. He left his best thoroughbred broodmares behind with his remaining brother in the south, and for the next twenty years, he faithfully bred his thoroughbreds every season by letter and cable-gram from the north.

In 1939, when he heard that war-clouds were gathering across Europe and Japan, he made the difficult decision to sell all his broodmares. One of the mares he sold was a mare called Lady March, who was in foal to a stallion called Excitement. His greatest dream was to breed a winner of the Melbourne Cup, and he believed this mating in particular would produce a great stayer. Lady March was sold to a stock and station agent called Joseph Leeds. She later foaled a colt named Russia, who duly won the 1946 Melbourne Cup.

NH Brown listened to the race through a static-filled radio at Nonda Downs. “Well, there you go,” he said to his head stockman. “I’ll just have to find another one.”

Reg Brown NH Brown retired from the North in 1953 and handed the station over to his son Reg. He went across to the New Zealand yearling sales in 1955 and selected one single colt from the catalogue. Tragically, N H Brown never lived to see him race. He left the colt to his son Reg, who planned his racing career from the station at Julia Creek, nearly the full length of the continent away from Melbourne.

Macdougal won the Brisbane Cup, the Queens Cup, the Metropolitan and, in 1959, the Melbourne Cup.

The Brown family continued to breed a long list of good racehorses, picnic horses and stock horses, and Reg Brown taught his daughter everything his own father had taught him.

Heather was riding an old pony from the time she was three, and grew up listening to the races through the static on the radio. She mustered with the station stockmen and aboriginals, when she turned 18, her father handed over the horse books for 200 station horses and told her to make the decisions.

Heather spent every spare moment in the saddle, and every school and university holiday was spent training horses – mustering horses, camp draft horses, picnic race horses – and breaking in young horses for the mustering plant. Since there were no vets closer that three or four hundred kilometers, she did most of her own veterinary work.

Heather Heather shared her father and her grandfather’s passion for racing, and father and daughter would usually be found studying the form in the saddling paddock of a racetrack somewhere.

In 1983, Outback Legend RM Williams invited Heather –who was by now working as a part-time writer for The Australian – to ride beside him in the famous 150 mile Winton to Longreach to promote the yet-to-be-built Stockman’s Hall of Fame. The tough big station stallion she rode came through the grueling event with flying colours.

Reg Brown passed away suddenly a few days later, and the Cloncurry Stockmen’s Challenge – now regarded as one of the most important performance horse events in Australia – is his memorial.

Heather took over the running of the station for the next few years and turned her attention to breeding better performance horses. Over the next two decades she bred or owned Australian champions in a wide variety of disciplines, including multiple Royal Show winners, a winner of the Cloncurry Stockman’s Challenge, an Australian Cow horse Champion, an Australian Reining Champion, an Australian Polo Crosse champion and a winner of the Warwick Gold Cup, considered the world cup of Australian camp drafting.

When she finally left the bush, Heather worked as a senior writer for The Australian newspaper for many years. She later left journalism created her own marketing company and marketed the biggest thoroughbred sales in Australasia – the Australian Easter Sales and the New Zealand Sales Series. She also did the Valued Client program for the Magic Millions.

Lets’ Talk Later, the mare who had won the Warwick Gold Cup, became critically ill a few months after the event and was rushed into Oakey Veterinary Hospital. Heather called Dr David Pascoe, who had worked with the mare doing embryo transfers, and asked his advice on how to save her.

It was touch and go for the first few weeks, and after nearly three months in hospital, the remarkable mare managed to beat the odds. Along the way, David and Heather had a bet about something, and the looser had to buy dinner.

Heather lost, David won – and their relationship began shortly afterwards. The couple decided to buy Plaintree Farms to give Let’s Talk Later a home. The chestnut mare – complete with a garland of roses – joined the wedding party when they married a few years later.

David eventually convinced Heather it was time to follow her passion again, and she went back to the business of breeding thoroughbreds.

Let’s Talk Later still lives in the sweetest paddock on the farm.

Thou shall be for Man a source of happiness and wealth;
thy back shall be a seat of honor, and thy belly of riches;
every grain of barley given thee shall purchase indulgence for the sinner.

—The Koran