Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Toft Endurance

Tuesday April 24 2007

After leaving Brisbane, a city I will never love because I lost the Raven there, I headed for Peter and Penny Toft’s place. The Tofts live In the northeastern state of Queensland near Marburg, an hour or so from Brisbane. I took a train out that direction, and Peter sent Bob to pick me up. I arrived on a busy day, during a busy week, part of a busy month… but then I expect with such a huge operation, every day is a busy day. However, today, in the middle of things - clients looking at horses, vets vetting horses, employees moving horses in and out of the barn for inspection, phones ringing, Peter still took the time to step aside and talk to me for a bit. I was most worried about coming at a bad time, or being in the way, but I was told I wouldn’t be.

How big is huge? Peter and Penny Toft would be the other 2 leading endurance riders in Australia, (besides Meg Wade) and also 2 of the leaders in the world of endurance. How many horses do they have? Peter said he didn’t know - maybe 500 - not just here but all over the world in training. While they breed 35 - 40 of their own horses a year, Toft Endurance is in the business of buying and selling endurance horses. While Peter didn’t know the exact number, I’d come to realize later that he probably knows every horse, where it is and what it’s doing, what its race record and breeding is.

A main topic of conversation (with Bob also, who picked me up) is the obvious drought. It’s bad here also; the paddocks are brown, but at least visually it’s not as bad as Meg’s place. Here the trees are still green, and there’s still grass on the road shoulders - the stock hasn’t gotten desperate enough yet to graze that down. The windmill in the middle of one of their pens, that used to furnish water for the whole valley below (they have a nice perch up on a hill), has gone dry. Normally they have around 10 employees, but now they have a lot more just constantly putting feed out for horses. Hay is already $18 for a 50 lb bale of grass hay, and it may soon get up to $25 a bale. There’s some 100 or so horses at the farm here, horses in quarantine, horses waiting to go into quarantine, horses coming in from overseas, mares and foals, weanlings. Oh, and a camel.

Peter and Dr Kamal - here from the UAE vetting horses for clients - had some afternoon business at the Gold Coast, and Peter asked if I wanted to go along. Figuring it might be my only tourista item I do around here, I hopped in the car. On the 1 ½ hour drive, I asked Peter a few questions, and he asked me a few… but it was always between phone calls - on 2 cell phones. (Dr Kamal’s rang a bit too, and so I turned mine on because I have a cell phone too, but mine didn‘t ring.) Peter’s mind is always thinking: he has a hundred things going on in a hundred different directions in his mind; he’s always focused and he’s very sharp. Of course you’d have to be with such a business. He’d be about to answer a question I had for him, when his phone would ring; he’d shift gears to the topic of conversation, talk 15 minutes, then get off the phone and answer my question with a straight answer, right before the phone rang again.

The Gold Coast is a big tourist destination for Europeans, Japanese and Australians. About 30 years ago, the then-Prime Minister noticed the Japanese liked to vacation there, so, wanting to promote the region, he started direct flights from Tokyo to Brisbane. It went over so well, that the Japanese proceeded to buy the hotels, and the tourist shops, and then came in droves, staying at their hotels and shopping at their shops. The Gold Coast is now mostly owned by Japanese, some Europeans, a lot of Middle Easterners, and some Americans - Australians own little of it. But that’s probably how it is all over the world. How much American investment is in Miami Beach?

And though I haven’t been there, I expect the Gold Coast (and the Sunshine Coast just north) are about like Miami Beach - chock full of high rise condominiums along the beach, lots of shopping, high end and low end and souvenirs, lots of restaurants, lots of night life. I wandered around for an hour, sad the Raven wasn’t with me, stopped at an internet place to check emails, and whoa! The Raven condolences are coming in, and the Raven Search has taken a whole new life of its own! While it’s sad, it cracks me up! I walked onto the beach, and touched the Pacific Ocean, which seemed quite warm. The lifeguards were packing up for the day and people coming out of the water. I don’t know if it’s bad here, but up north there’s killer jellyfish (which sting), killer stonefish (don‘t step on them), killer octopus (which bite) and sharks (which eat, thought the last Australian shark fatality was 1937). Not to mention the crocodiles in rivers and swamps, and poisonous snakes and spiders…

Anyway, of course there was a Starbucks, and of course I had to sample it. I met back up with Peter and Dr Kamal, and we left as it was getting dark, about 5:30 - Gold Coast rush hour. Peter was back on the phone - picking up all those phone calls that he missed in his meeting.

Back home - I was put up at their house - I met Penny (actually met her in Malaysia) and their 2 horse-crazy girls Brooke and Alexandra. Really cool girls. Brooke started endurance riding when she was 8, and is well-traveled, having ridden in Bahrain and New Zealand, and strapped in the World Championships in Germany last year. Alexandra also started endurance riding when she was 8. I suspect both are way better horsemen than me!

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