1000 Hooves: Stories of the Moreton Bay Equestrian Community
An extraordinary sanctuary, nestled in the heart of Caboolture, thrives under the dedicated care of Nancy Capewell. Nancy’s story embodies an unwavering passion for her horses and community, highlighting the incredible foundations upon which she built her equestrian legacy. The story of Nancy's sanctuary isn't solely about horses; it's an enchanting narrative of unity, compassion, and enduring affection for all living beings. To truly grasp the profound essence of this sanctuary, we must embark on a journey through Nancy's life, unravelling the intricate threads that bind her existence with the timeless connection between humanity and these majestic creatures.
The chronicle of Nancy's journey commences in Cunnamulla in 1937, where her bond with horses was first kindled by her mother when she was only 2 years old. Tragically, at the age of four, Nancy lost both her mother and grandmother in a short span of time. This untimely loss led to Nancy being raised at St. Catherine’s Convent, where she continued to learn empathy, kindness, and compassion, enabling her to heal and grow into an inspirational young woman. While those years nurtured her soul, a special connection was forged during holidays when she embarked on rides with her father. This idyllic bonding time became a cherished memory, alongside the feeling of guidance from her mother’s spirit, Nancy found her life forever woven with the rhythm of hoofbeats.
Amidst a treasure trove of cherished memories, one stands out – a pivotal moment when the promise of a horse awaited her if she could mount a towering Clydesdale. The challenge was colossal, and many attempts ended in the dust, yet young Nancy's unyielding determination propelled her to conquer it. Clinging to the Clydesdale's mane, she hauled herself atop with sheer tenacity. However, her triumph came with an unexpected stipulation. She was informed that merely "being on" the horse wasn't sufficient; she had to sit tall and proud. Summoning every ounce of inner strength, she overcame exhaustion and presented herself with unwavering determination. This indomitable spirit, nurtured from a tender age, would lead Nancy to her first pony. Her first pony, though spirited and defiant, mirrored Nancy's resolute nature. The pony's audacious antics tested Nancy's mettle, yet she remained steadfast and armed with patience and ingenuity, she enticed her pony forward with a treat on the end of a stick.
As Nancy traversed the path of life, her journey intersected with that of George Capewell, a Cunnamulla drover. With their shared love for the land and horses, they worked together, mustering sheep under the scorching Australian sun for weeks and sometimes months on end. Even after the birth of her first child, Nancy Maree, Nancy was back in the saddle a mere ten days later, mustering 5000 sheep. While the work was demanding and challenging, Nancy and George faced the days together and continued to expand their family with the arrivals of Mary Lou and George Robert. Eventually, with the children's education in mind, Nancy insisted on ending the nomadic droving lifestyle, opting for a more settled existence in Cunnamulla as they reached school age.
In 1976, the family embarked on a new adventure and moved to Caboolture. This era marked the beginning of the "Caboolture Sunday Market Pony Rides," a venture initiated with two of Nancy's cherished horses. Demand grew exponentially, prompting her to establish a riding school at her Caboolture home. This wasn't just a place to learn to ride; it was a space where children imbibed valuable life lessons, compassion, and empathy.
Among Nancy's students, Aaron stands as a living testament to the transformative power of her influence. Initially a rapscallion and upstart, Aaron quickly learnt the value of community participation and support at Nancy's sanctuary. Refusing to miss the chance to revel in the company of other children amid horses and fresh air, he swiftly reformed his ways. Aaron reminisces about Nancy's school as "a refuge for all kids, an inclusive space that embraced those with disabilities, troubled backgrounds, and the need for a new purpose.” Nancy bestowed upon them the invaluable gifts of direction and purpose. Over two decades later, Aaron still assists Nancy on the land, and his own love for riding has been inherited by his two daughters.
Two other exceptional students have left enduring imprints on Nancy's school and her life. Beccy's journey began as she sought solace at the riding school following her mother's passing. Heartbreak struck once more shortly after when her father also unexpectedly passed away, leaving Beccy in need of a new home. Recognizing this need, Nancy extended her family by welcoming Beccy as a ‘special’ daughter, who found healing and growth within the company of the horses. The other student, Anika, a devoted horse enthusiast, discovered a refuge for self-expression among the horses. This initial connection blossomed into a steadfast commitment, with Anika and her family continuing to assist Nancy in daily horse care and classes, thus nurturing and perpetuating Nancy's legacy of riding lessons and fostering a future generation's adoration for these majestic creatures.
Amidst her growing community, Nancy displayed unwavering commitment to the care of her horses as well. Even in the face of tempting offers, her resolute decision to never part with a horse remained unshaken. Whether it was substantial sums for a rare horse intended for breeding or proposals to repurchase horses previously sold to her, now reformed, and nurtured into loving and gentle beings, her answer was always a firm no. This unyielding determination, although occasionally vexing for George, served as a testament to Nancy's profound conviction that her haven was not merely a sanctuary for people, but an equally safe space for the horses that graced her life. Once they crossed the threshold into her realm, they became integral members of her extended family.
Throughout all of this, Nancy’s 50-year marriage was a rugged journey marked by challenges and George's characteristic temperament, reflecting the hard bushman mindset of tackling issues head-on. Nancy’s role in the riding school mirrored the unique balance in her marriage to George: his support shone through his saddle-making and leather craftsmanship, while he remained hands-off from the school's operations, dedicating himself to tasks like working at the Sunday Caboolture markets and caring for their other animals. Despite George's candid declaration against any financial support for her riding school venture, Nancy stood by him during his post-stroke recovery, and his passing in 2004 marked a poignant milestone in her life. Amidst all the personal trials and the complexities of their relationship, her unwavering bond with horses provided her with steadfast companionship and solace.
As Nancy's life evolved, her haven took root not only in the physical space but also within her spirit. Her living room and home are adorned with equestrian delights, each item a testament to her passion and the enduring connection she shares with these magnificent beings, as well as the many people and students who have gifted her these special treasures. Now, she spends her days with her friends and family, surrounded by her horses and gazing at the clouds, envisioning horses dancing in their forms—a poignant reminder of the enduring bonds she cherishes.
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All Photos are Copyright of Novina Photography
This Project was made possible through RADF The Regional Arts Development Fund is a partnership between the Queensland Government and Moreton Bay Regional Council to support local arts and culture in regional Queensland.