Tony Carter-Smith has left his mark on thousands of horses over more than three decades.
It’s fair to say that the talented horseman had established the best brand in the industry.
After 35 year of freeze branding horses, ranging from thoroughbreds to ponies, the 67-year-old decided the time was right to retire and will now concentrate on taking things a little bit quieter as he finds more time as a hobby racehorse trainer.
Carter-Smith said he quietly decided to retire and let Ross Hedwards, who had been working for him for several years, drift in and take over the business.
He said it wasn’t really a plan to retire, but it just happened.
“I’d been thinking about if for a while because I’d had a hip replacement, I’ve got one arm that is ordinary and it’s a physical job and I did the trotters for 35 years and I handed that over to Ross,” Carter-Smith said.
“Ross started doing my jobs at Sale and Hamilton and the faraway places and then I thought you retire when you’re 70 or 75 when you’re doing this job.
“If you were sitting behind a desk you could probably work until you’re 80, but that’s not the case.
“I’m financially okay and didn’t do it for that reason so I can’t even brand my own now as I don’t have any gear.”
Carter-Smith, known to every stud and breeder in the state, has never kept statistics on the number of horses he has branded, except for one year when he did 6000.
He suggests averaging out 5000 horses over his 35 year career that a staggering 175,000 horses would be in the vicinity of the total.
And for 35 years he was the sole brander of harness horses in Victoria and for a while he also ventured into South Australia.
When he first started he was doing around 4500 to 5000 harness horses a year, but the Standardbred horse population has dropped back to about 1300 or 1400.
“With the thoroughbreds, there used to be three of us doing it in Victoria, then it became two and then 20 years ago a friend of mine passed away (Dennis Burnett) and I got all his work,” he said.
“So for the last 20 years I have virtually done 95 per cent of it.”
Carter-Smith always wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father Stuart and become a horse trainer and spent five years with Tommy Smith and also worked for Bart Cummings.
In a strange twist of events, a famous ring-in at Broken Hill in March of 1983 led to Carter-Smith taking up a career as a horse brander.
“My father had a pretty handy horse that won in town and he couldn’t keep it sound so he sold it and the mob that bought it snuck it up to Broken Hill and had a ring-in with it,” he said.
“Nordica had been trained by father, obviously not then, and the horse they ran it under up there was called Foden. They bought both horses and Foden went up there with picnic form and was obviously long odds and they put Nordica in and backed the hell out of it to even money or odds on and he bolted in.”
Carter-Smith said the bookies never paid out and immediately began yelling “ring-in.”
He said the crooks were jailed.
“I thought then they will bring in freeze branding and make everyone do it because back then you could fire brand and there were no microchips either,” Carter-Smith said.
“I just went to the trotting mob because I knew they were doing it (freeze branding) and I just wanted to learn and there just happened to be an opening for a horse catcher.
“I was lucky that I went there at the right time and started doing the freeze branding for them and I was doing it for 35 years.”
Carter-Smith said his father was a successful country trainer, but he always had other businesses and told him that if wanted to train to make sure he had something else as back up.
“But I did all the right things and went to work for TJ Smith and there is are shot of me riding Kingston Town but you wouldn’t think so now looking at me,” he said.
“I went overseas for a couple of years and worked in Saudi Arabia for 12 months and worked for a trainer in England in a jumping yard and then I went to a stud and broke in all the yearlings.
“So I did everything around racing thinking I was going to be a horse trainer but then I drifted into the branding and quite enjoyed it and it has set me up now.
“I have always trained a couple and even sold one to Singapore for a couple of hundred of thousand dollars.”
Carter-Smith said he has done everything with horses, including breaking in, as he attempted to work out how he’d make a quid out of horses because that’s all he knew.
He has had a crack at horse dentistry but hasn’t done it for 20 years, with the exception of his own horses.
When Carter-Smith first started branding the process was optional.
“You could fire brand, but I never ever did that and started straight away with the freeze branding,” he said.
“I took a punt and was right for once and thought they’d make it mandatory which they did. It took me a long time to build up the business and buy the gear and improve things.
“I was probably the first one to use one inch brands which most studs in Victoria use now. There was a lot of equipment when Ross came and bought the business off me but we are friends as well and he rings me most days.
“The transition was good and he has got all the gear and as I said I can’t even brand my own.”
The busiest time of Carter-Smith’s work was between November to early June but he’d also do other horses, including ponies warmbloods and quarter horses.
He said it had been a great job, although people can’t believe that he’d never been seriously hurt.
“I did get a lot of time off but I’d never bag the job and I’d always look back and say what a great job it was,” he said.
“When I started a lot of people in the thoroughbred industry were catching up and you’d go there and they’d say you might was well do the three-year-old, the two-year-old, the yearling and the foal.
“So that was pretty exciting for a few years. Now it’s pretty straight forward.”
And he said when he first started out branding a lot of people thought it was an easy gig so there were quite a few others doing it but after a couple of years it got down to virtually just him for a long time.
Carter-Smith said he likes to breed a few of his own on his beautiful 30 acre farm just outside of Kilmore and will probably agist a few more horses and perhaps do a bit of pre-training with the aid of his equine treadmill.
And he joked he’d take a couple of motivational pills and continue training a couple and while he said 10 years ago every horse he put a bridle on won, but lately they just lose.
During the past 12 months he has sacked seven of his horses and the last one standing is a two-year-old by Nostradamus that he plans to break-in soon after recovering from a paddock accident.
He hopes to pick up another one in his price range at the VOBIS Gold Sale.
“I will miss the people but I won’t miss going to Pakenham and Cranbourne every 10 days and going through the traffic,” Carter-Smith said.
“I have made a lot of friends and some people you only see once a year but you look forward to it.”
While he has branded countless champions such as Black Caviar, and plenty of slow ones as well, has seen generations of people – and horses – in his time.
And that’s what he’ll miss.