By Julieanne Horsman
Cameron Ferguson isn’t the type of bloke to beat around the bush. He’ll tell you he was born without his right arm and it hasn’t held him back. He had his first sit on a horse at age three and spent his childhood and teenage years riding through the bush at Samford, West of Brisbane, with his mates.
“Mum and dad never wrapped me in cotton wool, they encouraged me to get out there and have a go and that’s what I’ve always done,” Cameron said.
At age 16 Cameron experienced a defining moment when one of his older friends, Peter Biggs, returned home from Longreach Pastoral College. Cameron was watching him shoe a horse and joked that he could do most things but not that. Peter scoffed and told Cameron to be at his front gate at 6 o’clock the next morning and he’d show him otherwise.
“Peter took me to work with him and taught me how to shoe a horse with one arm,” Cameron said. “He was a brilliant horseman and great to learn from. He introduced me to natural horsemanship and from there I began to develop and test my own techniques.”
After high school Cameron completed a Diploma of Applied Science majoring in grazing and animal production at the University of Queensland. By his second year he was giving shoeing demonstrations to the horse husbandry students and helping them break in their horses in his spare time. Once he graduated he went to work on a station at Longreach and was again fortunate to come across another great horseman to learn from in Ray Langdon.
“At that stage I thought I was a competent horseman but Ray showed me I was an overconfident teenager,” Cameron recalled with a laugh. “I remember one day watching Ray catch and handle a previously untouched young horse in about an hour. He walked out the yard to get some lunch and told me the next horse was mine. It took me four hours to do what he did.”
Over the next few years Cameron made a name for himself shoeing, breaking in and educating horses. He also ran a successful rural fencing business. He picked the brains of every horse practitioner he came across and continued to study whenever he had the chance. Eager to further his knowledge and experience, Cameron became a swabbing official for Queensland Principal Club (now Racing Queensland). He took the opportunity to train as a cadet steward and also worked as the clerk of the scales at tracks all over the state.
“I got to observe champions like Snitzel, Testarossa, Ethereal and Show A Heart as well as thousands of other horses throughout the phases of race day,” Cameron said. “It became clear to me almost every behavioural or performance issue could be linked to a level of discomfort in the horse. It could be anything from a sore tooth to malalignment of vertebrae.”
Since then Cameron has steadily built a client base around the Northern Rivers of the New South Wales and in South Eastern Queensland as more trainers embrace his holistic approach to the wellbeing of horses.
“I assess the mobility of the horse and where it’s lacking is usually the source of the problem,” he said. “I find pelvic rotations are a common problem and ongoing discomfort can often manifest other illnesses. When I find an issue I use techniques that prompt a horse to shift in a certain direction and allow the body to realign itself.”
Boutique Murwillumbah trainer Liam Munro is one of Cameron’s greatest supporters and describes him as having “a marvelous gift.” Of Liam’s last 12 starters, five have recorded wins and he says he wouldn’t have achieved those results without Cameron’s help.
“I’ve been trying to keep him to myself but other trainers are recognising the positive impact he is having,” Munro said. “I’m glad the universe only gave him one arm. If he had two he would put the rest of us to shame like Winx in a Murwillumbah maiden!”
Liam was advised to retire two of his horses, Chloride and Fell From Heaven, towards the end of last year. Chloride had bowed a tendon and was suffering from psychological issues. Fell From Heaven had come down from across the border after being declared the maddest horse on the coast.
“I took one look at Fell From Heaven and realised she was sore,” Cameron said. “She had pelvic rotation which had caused tension in her belly and restricted her breathing. We corrected that and it made a huge difference to her physical health and quality of life. Chloride was also in pain which was affecting his behaviour. We corrected that, changed his diet and showed him some kindness and he’s come along in leaps and bounds.”
Fell From Heaven has won two races and Chloride three since Liam was told to retire them.
“Instead of pulling out a bigger stick, it’s better to try and figure out what’s wrong,” Cameron said. “Natural horsemanship techniques have been scoffed at for too long.
“I don’t want to claim I am a miracle worker. I am not. I am a piece of the puzzle and sometimes it’s that one crucial piece that completes the picture.”
This story was originally published in the July 2018 edition of Racing NSW Magazine.