Family effort takes advantage of downtime

The Knowles family shearing merino rams a month earlier than normal, to take advantage of the...
The Knowles family shearing merino rams a month earlier than normal, to take advantage of the lockdown downtime. In their woolshed near Alexandra are (from left) Amelia (12), Danny and Jenny Knowles.
A breeze carrying a hint of spring wafts around the Knowles’ woolshed near Alexandra.

They have brought the merino rams off the hills early to take advantage of the downtime during lockdown.

This is definitely a family affair. Jenny Knowles selects a ram, taking down its ear tag details, while husband Danny Knowles wrangles it to the shearing board.

He is enjoying being at home all day and having the time to get the horses back into work.

Mr Knowles jokingly calls their larger than average lifestyle block a ‘‘life-sentence block’’.

They love it, but the work is never done.

Amelia (right) on rousie duties while her parents shear rams.
Amelia (right) on rousie duties while her parents shear rams.
Their daughter Amelia (12) is on the stop-start control and hands her father the shearing comb with a confident air.

When they are done, Mrs Knowles throws a silver merino fleece with practised ease while Amelia rousies.

‘‘I’ve been down her doing this since I was a baby,’’ Amelia said.

‘‘When she started to squawk we’d put her in a corner,’’ her mother adds.

‘‘Yeah, wrapped in wool,’’ Amelia recalls.

Like many families, they had enjoyed lockdown, and catching up with all the the stuff at home.

‘‘Lockdown is a perfect opportunity to get jobs out of the way,’’ Mr Knowles said.

Miniature horse breeder Jenny Knowles, of Earnscleugh, with her mare herd.PHOTOS: MARY-JO TOHILL
Miniature horse breeder Jenny Knowles, of Earnscleugh, with her mare herd.PHOTOS: MARY-JO TOHILL
‘‘We’re shearing early, a whole month earlier than we would, just because we could. I’d normally be down here ’til 10 o’clock at night so I’ve got time to do it, we’re not under as much pressure. And it means I’ve made time to have family time.’’

This is a busy trio. Mr Knowles is a chimney sweep and horseman. Mrs Knowles runs the farmlet and is an accomplished potter. Horse themes dominate her designs. Amelia is a talented rodeo rider, who is well-known for her barrel-racing and growing prowess at roping. She also helps her father in the business. The Knowles have 40ha of rolling, schist-strewn land that looks on to Blackmans and the Old Man Range foothills in Earnscleugh.

Mrs Knowles’ miniature horses pop up from behind the rocks like it is the Badlands.

She is the niece of the late Eden Hore from Maniototo, and her miniatures were bred from the founding stock that her uncle imported from South Carolina in the 1980s, to start Mt Ida Miniature Horses.

A miniature horse is bred to be more refined than the miniature pony, with a long, flexible neck, straight legs, and a short back. In short, they should look like a mini version of a horse.

Mrs Knowles has been breeding them for more than 30 years.

‘‘These days I really breed them for love.

‘‘I had my first at 16. I bred it as a 2-year-old and I had the first foal when I was 19.’’

About 20 mares come galloping over the hill and mob her.

These are all-American gals with pure bloodlines, and a bit of the bigger, spotty and patchy Appaloosa and overo breeds to strengthen the strain.

Mrs Knowles’ horses share a distinguishing characteristic: blue eyes.

They are riding horses but some are also trained to pull a cart.

She has been taking advantage of the lack of traffic to get one of her ‘‘wee minis’’ out on the road.

‘‘It was lovely, the road so quiet with the lockdown.’’

Mr Knowles was enjoying being at home and having the time to get the horses back into work.

‘‘This lockdown is completely different because so far there’s been no cases ... I’m not completely sure if what we’re doing is the right thing, but we’re sticking to the rules.

‘‘I remember the first lockdown, I just remember the dead quiet. I walked out in the middle of the paddock and sat on a rock. I looked at the animals and I thought if anything happens to us, they’ll just carry on.’’

- By Mary-Jo Tohill

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