If it ain’t broke... Tom can fix it


If it ain’t broke... Tom can fix it

words nikita skuse
PHOTOGRAPHY pete thornton
>> >> Sasha & Tom Willoughby with their daughters Daisy, Ruby & Lottie.

As Tom Willoughby ties his hand to a 1,000-kilogram bull, the hairs on the back of his neck stand up straight. His blood runs cold.

“On paper, it’s impossible,” the rodeo champion says. 

“How could someone who’s 65 to 80 kilos ride a 1,000 kilo bull?

“That feeling of the unknown, that’s just something you cannot describe to people. It’s something you chase.”

You can hear Tom coming before you see him, his metal boot spurs clicking along in time with his steps.

And when you do see him, it’s almost like stepping into a Clint Eastwood film. A classic cowboy head to toe. 

“I was born and bred into the horse industry.

“My father and his father were great horsemen, so I didn’t really have too much choice I suppose,” he chuckles.

“I was always going to do something like this.”

Tom and his wife, Sasha, started their horse breaking business five years ago on their property in Allendale North where they live with their three young daughters, Lottie, Ruby and Daisy.

As part of their business, Tom breaks in horses, which is essentially to train them from wild to tame.

He and Sasha are also both involved in the rodeo scene and run clinics to teach children the art of rodeo.

On top of that, Tom works in the film and television industry doing stunt work with horses, appearing on Sweet Country and High Ground.

“I like being able to achieve things with horses that a lot of other people can’t,” Tom says.

“I’m not too much of a people person, but I love working with a horse.

“If there are more happy horses in the world, it’ll be a better place.”

Not only does Tom make horses happy, but they seem to have the very same effect on him.

Watching him walk through the gate of his largest horse pen, his demeanour changes completely.

Greeting his “A-Team” of horses, he softens a little, looking more relaxed, like someone coming home to family after a long day.

A gentle tap of his favourite horse’s hooves and not a word exchanged, it lies down.

“Horses being a prey animal, they’re most vulnerable when they’re lying down. For him to just do that just tells me that he trusts me.”

“That feeling of the unknown, that’s just something you cannot describe to people. It’s something you chase.”

- Tom Willoughby

A step into Tom’s back shed shows exactly what this kind of connection has helped him achieve.

There’s a prized cabinet against the wall, each shelf containing big, shiny belt buckles lined up neatly in rows.

Looking over the shelves of memories, Tom’s eyes light up and his voice beams.

He describes these buckles as “the cowboy’s trophy” – a symbol of prestige awarded to cowboys at rodeos.

“It’s a really big, big, big thing to win a buckle,” he buzzes.

The fact that Tom owns dozens speaks volumes of his successful career in the industry.

He’s competed all over Australia, America and Canada and is the only cowboy to have won money in every open event in the rodeo season.

He attributes so much of this success to Sasha and the girls.

“I couldn’t do this without them, especially Sash,” Tom says.

“I’m just the horse person, but that’s only a tiny bit of the business. She keeps it all actually going and understands what I’m trying to achieve.”

Their pair are now excited to be passing on their talent to the next generation at the clinics they run.   

“We love helping out young children and seeing them go places,” Tom says.

“Whether they decide this is what they want to do or not, I back them 100 per cent and help them out the best I can to see them succeed in their goals.”

The industry isn’t what it once was, so Tom revels in the opportunity to nurture the passion in young hopefuls.

“There aren’t as many competitors as what there used to be, so I try to push people into having a go at it, and nine times out of ten they love it and want to do more,” he says. 

“I really like to push people to be good at whatever they do. I just like helping out.

“My old man, he was a lot like that. He’d always stop to help someone, so I suppose I picked that up from him.”

As experienced as he is, Tom says he still has so much to learn alongside his students and is excited to see where this industry continues to take him and his family into the future. 

“An old fella once told me, “The minute I stop learning, that’s the day I’m going to give it up.’”

“That’s the approach I go on. You can never stop learning.”

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