A HORSEWOMAN for most of her life, Sheila O'Donohoe, of Clifton, has also tried her hand at a range of careers from cattle breeding to hospitality and retail fashion.
The vivacious retiree who was born in Wimbledon, England, came out to Australia on holidays with her parents when she was nine years old.
"We visited friends at the small rural community of Drake, in northern New South Wales, and decided to stay," Sheila said.
"Dad went back to England and sold up before returning to Australia but Mum and I stayed here," she said.
Sheila recalls her first experience on horseback.
"I was about nine and I had to ride eight miles to school bareback," she said. "I had about 15 busters that first day, as I just kept slipping off.
"I had never ridden a horse before.
"I learnt to ride galloping around the mountains of Drake and won my first show ribbon at 9½ at the Tenterfield Show, after having been riding for four months."
That was just the beginning of what was to become a life-long affair with horses and life on the land.
Not long after arriving in Australia, Sheila's parents split and her mother, Gwen, remarried.
"My stepfather, John Collins, was a very good horseman and he taught me a lot," Sheila said.
The family travelled around Queensland for years managing stations, including Noorama, Cunnamulla, where Sheila undertook lessons via School of the Air.
"I used to pick up dead wool on the property, back when it was a pound for a pound. Two hundred pounds for a bale of wool was a lot of money back then," she said.
"I also used to ride racehorses for Cunnamulla trainer Cocky Easton up the sand along the river. We left Cunnamulla when I was about 14 and moved up to Rubyvale where John and mum managed Carbine Springs."
Sheila jillarooed on properties in the Springsure district during her later teenage years and did everything from mustering to milking cows. She also had a stint cooking at the Mareeba hospital and tobacco picking when she was about 21.
"I never stuck in the one spot for long but I came home to Carbine Springs for my 21st, and was riding in the campdraft at the Springsure Rodeo when I met my future husband, Michael Oâ€™Donohoe," Sheila said.
The dashing young couple operated Michael's family's santa gertrudis stud at Ronnoc Downs, at Springsure.
"We ran 500 stud cows and thoroughbreds and went campdrafting on weekends. It was a good life," Sheila said.
During that time, Sheila trained and raced horses throughout the central west, winning races at Mackay, Rockhampton, Emerald, Springsure and Blackall.
"I also rode in a few ladies' races myself," she said.
"I was a pony club instructor at Springsure and, in those days, we did pony club out on people's properties, chasing wild cattle and jumping logs."
When Sheila's marriage ended after 23 years, she made Toowoomba home and started pre-training sprint racehorses before a terrible accident forced her to slow down.
"I got smashed up pretty bad off a racehorse which slipped on the bitumen on Hursley Rd, while I had 26 horses in training at the time," she said.
"My doctor said I'd never ride another horse and I was supposed to have an operation but chickened out at the last minute.
"I swear by acupuncture and swimming but I do still have back problems as a result of the accident."
It was in Toowoomba that Sheila met her partner of 22 years, Alex Tennant, and began a career in the hospitality and retail sector, which included making horse rugs for RM Williams, restaurant manager of Clifford House, and nine years as manager of Katies stores.
She was never far from her beloved horses and enjoyed a successful showing career with her paint gelding, Sioux City Slicker, which won Queensland State Champion in 2006.
"He won everything at the halter, including the Brisbane Royal Show, and that year I did 34 shows with him," Sheila said.
Sheila and Alex moved to historic Doncaster Stud, once Tommy Smith's Queensland spelling stud, at Clifton in 1997. Now retired, Sheila likes to show her three-year-old Buckskin mare, YB Ice Tee, which has won 20 supreme ribbons at Darling Downs shows, and takes in spelling horses now and then.
A member of the Cumburrie Trail Horse Riding Club she likes to take part in about five rides a year. Sheila is also a proud mother of two, Kimberley and Michael, with four grandchildren.
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