Equestrian Life
Abe Graham cuts to the chase at The Big Bend

ABC Sheds Abe Graham completed covered arena 

Abe Graham's covered arena


By Equestrian Life

“I really don’t think my parents realised what they were creating when they purchased a $700 Shetland pony in 2001,” says Queenslander Abe Graham.

A keen campdraft and cutting rider, 23-year-old Abe is driven to carve out a career in the industry and late last year opened the doors to his new training facility west of Rockhampton and currently has over 20 horses in training.


Abe competing in the cutting pen

Abe competing in the cutting pen


Horses have been Abe's passion from the get-go. Growing up on the Central Queensland campdrafting circuit, he later discovered the world of cutting through his neighbour, the late ‘Long John’ Brekelmans.

An acclaimed horseman, John lived over the hill from Abe’s parents’ property. “I was always hanging out there, hungry for more knowledge. John was mainly training cutting horses and did a lot of sale horses,” recalls Abe. His performance horse ‘apprenticeship’ began with John, first during school holidays where he’d worked out that he could not only learn a great deal — but also get his schoolwork experience signed off at the same time. Following high school, he worked there full time for 12 months, followed by another 12 months of working and learning with another professional cutting horse trainer, Trent Smith. Abe then went on to work for Phil Dawson, where he remained for nearly three years.


Abe and Phil Dawson

Abe with Phil Dawson at AELEC, Tamworth


When the time finally came to get his own business up and running, Abe wasted little time. In November 2020, Abe opened the doors to “The Big Bend”, his new property 40km west of Rockhampton from which he runs Abe Graham Performance Horses. Training both cutters and campdrafters, 75% of the horses Abe trains are for clients — some are sent to be prepared for sales such as the Nutrien Classic (formerly the Landmark Classic), while others are with him for long-term training from a young age.

“When I buy horses for clients as yearlings, I try to buy a type of horse, where if they don’t work out as cutters they’re a type that can suit campdrafting. I feel that a cutting foundation is a great thing for campdraft horses,” explains Abe, also pointing out that thanks to the skyrocketing popularity of the uniquely Australian sport, the market for campdraft horses is very strong. 


Abe Graham and Beljay First to Shine in 2019, a horse he later rode in the Nutrien sale 2021

Abe Graham with Beljay First to Shine in 2019, owned and bred by Beljay Performance Horses, a filly he later rode in the 2021 Nutrien sale


In terms of his own horses, Abe explains he took a couple of very nice colts to the Nutrien Classic earlier this month, and he has “a really, really nice Futurity horse” that he’s aiming for the 2021 National Cutting Horse Association of Australia (NCHA) Futurity at Tamworth in July/August. Amaroo Blue Boons Destiny, purchased by Abe’s supporter Mert Graham at the 2018 Nutrien Classic, is by the same stallion as the mare that just won the American Futurity; the second crop of foals by the stallion, Once in a Blu Boon, are now on the ground in Australia. The first crop (which didn’t show in 2020 due to Covid) will hit the show ring this year. “There is a lot of American influence coming through,” says Abe, referring to the ever-evolving Australian cutting industry. “I also have some nice two year olds that will hopefully be going for the Futurity next year.”


Abe Graham and Beljay First to Shine, who sold at the 2021 Nutrien sale for $32,500

Abe Graham and Beljay First to Shine at the 2021 Nutrien sale, where the young mare sold for $32,500


For Abe, opening his business at The Big Bend meant a whirlwind end to 2020. As he explains, the farm was a blank canvas with little more than a hay shed and some old cattle yards — so it’s been a busy few months getting the foundations set so that he could begin working from the property. 

“There was nothing here, and that's kind of how we wanted it. So we’ve drawn a plan up of what we'd like that the property to look like in 10 years time. We figured we wanted to build the main infrastructure first and everything else will come into play around that. The arena was the first thing we built.” 

The arena Abe refers to is not merely a patch of sand in a paddock; it features a 32m x 30m x 5m clear span fully galvanised cover, built by the team at ABC Sheds.


ABC Sheds Abe Graham's shed in construction2

An impressive structure, Abe's investment in an ABC Sheds covered arena is paying off


“To build the arena I have at my age, a lot of people said, ‘you’re mad investing in something so expensive so early’. I said, ‘I feel that if you’re going to be a builder, the first thing you do is go and buy decent tools’.” 

The way Abe sees it, if having the arena boosts his working capacity from the beginning, it will pay for itself over time. “I've got a little thermometer, and as a rule it's about an eight-degree difference between outside and under the arena. On a 45 degree day, it's the difference between working horses and not, and making money or not,” he explains. “Plus I can enjoy it now for the next 30 years of my career!”

Abe explains that building the arena first wasn’t just about getting the right tools for the job from the get-go; it will also help to plan how the rest of the property is laid out.

“With cutting horses, it’s pretty important where cattle come from; with cattle being a herd animal, when they are worked, they tend to pull from where they came from. So putting the arena where we have, it'll dictate where we end up building the cattle yards and different things like that as time goes by. We wanted the arena to be the centrepiece of the place, and everything else will work off that.”

Abe speaks highly of the team at ABC Sheds. “They were unbelievable… they were really good to deal with the whole way along. I went to the website and filled out a form for a quote. The guy I dealt with initially, Huxley, he was on the blower within a couple of hours to talk to me about it!” This prompt reply was in contrast to some other quotes Abe requested — one of which landed on his desk months later, the day after the arena had already been constructed!

“The process took probably three or four months, between the quote, designing it, getting everything sorted through council, and then construction. ABC Sheds came up with a lot of different things that I would have never thought of. For example, my project co-ordinator, Alexander, suggested that we drill holes so that we could bolt on awnings if we wanted to down the track.  I’m very happy with the quality of it; it’s going nowhere!” Once the cover was installed, Abe constructed the fencing around it and has been since working cattle under it for a couple of weeks now — and he’s certainly enjoying having his own facilities to make use of. “Where the arena is situated here, we can sit on the hill here and look back to the lights of Rocky of a night time. It's a pretty cool spot.”


ABC Sheds Abe Graham completed covered arena


With the new property up and running and 20 horses in work, Abe is certainly busy. “My dad helps me most days. I chip away at the young horses on my own in the mornings, and then he shows up after work to give me a hand to work horses in the afternoons,” says Abe, explaining that his parents live close by.

Last year was certainly a year of growth and change for Abe. Equipped with knowledge from multiple legends of the sport, a supportive family, and a well-appointed new property, 2021 is no doubt shaping up to be exciting.

This article was written in conjunction with ABC Sheds.


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© copyright. Equestrian Life. Friday, 16 April 2021