Stock Horses › Nonda Redford history

In one sense, Nonda Redford is one of the most exciting young stallion prospects to be announced in Australia for a long time. He represents a new outcross for the breed, a unique combination of the best genetics of two very different breeds. His dam Let’s Talk Later was a champion campdrafter and Warwick Gold Cup winner, while his sire Semipalitinsk was a champion and enormously respected Australian thoroughbred sire.

Nonda Redford Nonda Redford – THE RED HORSE

But the real story behind Nonda Redford is more important than winners and losers, because it represents the celebration of commitment and good veterinary science. Because without the remarkable dedication of veterinary surgeons, this colt would simply not exist.

In October, 2000, a tough chestnut mare called Nonda Lets Talk Later achieved the dream of every camp drafter in Australia when she won the Warwick Gold Cup.

Ella – as she was known – was ridden by the legendary drover and master horseman Terry Hall, and she made Warwick 2000 her own: not only did she manage to win the Gold Cup, she also made the final of the Canning Downs, where she ran the fastest round (22 seconds) and won the award for the Highest Aggregate in the Warwick Gold Cup and the Canning Downs. The mare was also awarded the coverted trophy for the highest scoring ASHS and the highest scoring AQHA.

A few days later, her owner Heather Brown took Lets Talk Later to Eureka Stud, a well-known thoroughbred farm on the Darling Downs, where she was turned out for a well-deserved spell.

The mare had already chalked up a remarkable career. She had originally been campaigned as a cutting horse by trainer Robert Mackay, and made the final of both the NCHA Futurity and the NCHA Derby.

When she was sent drafting with Terry Hall in 1998, she achieved immediate success. She won prestigious drafts like the Proston Golden Spurs, the Walcha Golden Gate and ran second in the Pearlof the North in Darwin. In the middle of all that, she took time off to have a filly foal by Acres Destiny, born in December, 1999. The mare returned to work with Terry Hall as soon as the filly was weaned in June, 2000.

Four months after her Warwick Gold Cup victory, Eureka stud master Scott McAlpine noticed early one morning that Let’s Talk Later seemed distinctly off-colour, and he loaded the mare on the float and took her straight into the Oakey Veterinary Hospital.

The mare was, in fact, critically ill. Every medical test showed she was ‘off the scale’ – which in veterinary terms meant that she barely had hours to live. She had a series of massive infections scattered throughout her body, with huge abscesses on her kidney and throughout her abdomen – where one was as large as a basketball. As well, she was suffering life threatening peritonitis, double pneumonia in her lungs and eventually, severe mastitis that caused abscesses to burst in her udder.

Heather Brown was determined to give her much-loved mare every chance to live, so she called up Dr David Pascoe at Oakey Veterinary Hospital and asked him to personally advise her on what course of treatment she should choose with the mare.

Dr Pascoe knew the mare well: he had worked with her on an embryo program and had advised the course of muscle manipulation by his colleague Dr Glen Laws that saw the mare rapidly recover from a bad back, return to soundness and win the Warwick Gold Cup.

After close consultation with the Dr Chris Riggs and Dr Joan Carrick , specialists in the surgical and medical team who held very different opinions about treatment – Dr Pascoe advised Heather take the medical option and try the use of drugs to try and arrest the massive infections raging inside the mares body.

For the first two weeks it was touch and go, and the mare could have died at any moment. After a while, however, she slowly began to respond to treatment, and the long and expensive medical haul began.

Ella – as she is known to her friends – remained in intensive care for over a month, and stayed in hospital for another two months. In that time she began to capture the hearts of every person who knew her with her fierce spirit, her courage and her extraordinary will to live.

When she was finally ready to leave hospital, Heather Brown held a celebration dinner at the hospital with food, drinks and lots of yellow ribbons because, as the song says, ‘wear a yellow ribbon if you still want me’. A video of her Warwick Gold Cup win was played with a soundtrack of Eric Clapton singing You are so beautiful to me – and there was hardly a dry eye in the house.

Terry Hall with Heather Pascoe and Lets Talk Later (left) Terry Hall with Heather Pascoe and Lets Talk Later at her “Celebration for a life” farewell party at Oakey Veterinary Hospital (“wear a yellow ribbon if you still want me” as the song goes) (right) Terry and Christine Hall with David Pascoe at Ella’s thank you party

Along the way, a few other things had changed as well. One night Dr Pascoe took Heather out to dinner, and it was to mark the beginning of a relationship that culminated in their marriage in August 2003. Ella – complete with beautiful roses braided into her mane – was an member of the wedding party, and she walked down the path to the chapel led by her friend and partner, Terry Hall.

LETS TALK LATER – at the Pascoe wedding LETS TALK LATER – dressed in roses and led by Terry Hall – at the Pascoe wedding

Shortly after Ella was released from hospital, David and Heather decided to buy a mixed grazing farm not far from Toowoomba in order to give Ella a home of her own. It was to mark the beginning of Plaintree Farms, which is now a busy and successful thoroughbred farm.

After she was released from hospital, she was nursed back to full health on her new farm for most of the next year. When she was cycling normally, she was placed on an embryo transfer program. Dr Pascoe had decided that the complications resulting from her illness made her incapable of safely carrying her own foal.

Ella and David Pascoe Ella and David Pascoe

She was bred to the champion thoroughbred sire Semipalitinsk – by now in semi-retirement at EurekaStud – and an embryo was flushed at 8 days and placed into a recipient trotter called Martha. Only two days later, the normally timid mare became aggressive and began to fight for her feed, and Dr Pascoe started taking bets that the mare would be in foal. He was right.

A colt foal was safely delivered at two o’clock in the morning on 19th of December 2002, and for David and Heather, Christmas has come early that year.

Nonda Redford as a foal Nonda Redford as a foal

The colt was a strong red chestnut, the image of his own natural mother, and he was soon being called Robert Redford, after the Hollywood superstar who also happened to be red-haired and very handsome.

When the achievements of that other, Australian Redford was considered – one Harry Redford, drover, the man who walked a thousand head of cattle overland from Longreach to Adelaide, mostly through largely unexplored country – it seemed the obvious name. The remarkable stockman ship of Harry Redford meant that, be it superstar or stockman, it was a perfect name for the colt.

Redford was weaned early from Martha, his surrogate mother, and grew up at Plaintree Farms surrounded by thoroughbred colts. He learned to look after himself at an early age. What he lacked in size and weight against the bigger thoroughbred colts, he soon made up in stealth and cunning: he would simply outsmart and out-step the big boys and leave them squabbling amongst themselves.

He was allowed to take his time to grow up slowly and naturally. He was broken in as a 2YO by master horseman Michael Wilson, who held a high opinion of the colt. He later returned home to Plaintree where he was given more time to prepare to follow the honorable path of his ancestors – working cattle.

Redford has been out on the road with Terry Hall for two different droving trips this year, and the man of few words reckons he goes alright.

But when you see Terry Hall riding the colt behind a mob of cattle, the same familiar chestnut with the same familiar blaze, you find yourself squinting into the light for a moment, remembering another horse, and another time and place.

Nonda 100 Years of History

A lovely horse is an emotional experience of the kind that is spoiled by words.

—Beryl Markham