Dippy, real name, Darryl Brusnahan, tells PowerTorque the story of how he went about getting started in the horse game. Dippy and his wife Zelda have developed a strong reputation in the world of horse transport in and out of Queensland.
“I started with a bloke called Garry Higgins, when I was 21,” says Dippy. “He used to have horses and I had just come in from the West and found out what women were, and that was the end of me. I had been born and bred on cattle properties and grew up around horses.
“I did quite a few years for him working with thoroughbreds, doing race loads. He sort of treated me like a son, so I could never work in opposition to him. I worked for him for periods and then would go driving for someone else to get more experience with the heavier trucks. Eventually, I got a trainers license and got my own little body truck. It was around the same time as I met my wife, Zelda, and we borrowed some money from her father, bought a truck and built the body.
“We worked during the breeding season hauling to the Hunter Valley and back. We paid the old man back within just a few months. Garry had me sub-contracting for him and when he pulled out, the stud farms asked me if I would keep it going.”
This was the opportunity for the business to expand and it has grown over the past years to the operation running today. The one little body truck became three, before Dippy bought his first semi, a second hand Iveco.
He had employed a female driver to handle the semi, who was unfortunate enough to be involved in a major accident at Lithgow in NSW. Luckily she survived and Dippy puts this down to the safety systems on the truck at the time.
“The paramedic who was the first on the scene, held her head for four hours while they cut her out,” says Dippy. “We had put satellite tracking in our trucks and over the weekend we noticed she seemed stuck in the same place for a long time. It wasn’t until her partner called us that we found out she had been in an accident.
“It’s something you would never wish on anybody. It still, to this day, gives me goosebumps.”
Another reason Dippy likes the Iveco product is because, as he says, “You can throw anyone in them. They just press D for ‘Dumb Bastard’ and away you go.”
The fleet is currently, five trucks, and at one time got up to seven. This comprises three body trucks, one semi and a B-double. Any growth in the fleet will be in rigid trucks as it is getting too hard to find good horse handlers with an HC or MC license. Also many of the smaller horse properties they pick up from can be difficult with a semi.
One of the issues with the smaller rigid trucks, rated at 12 tonnes GVM and able to take a big enough horse body, has been the size of the sleeper cabin available. The Iveco Eurocargo has the advantage of being supplied with a full size sleeping compartment.
The rigid body trucks will fit 11 horses with ease. The fleet comes under the livestock loading schemes in each state, along with the allowances and compliance burden that imposes on the operation. The animal welfare rules require extensive reporting of any instances where there may be an issue.
Dippy likes to build his own bodies on the trucks, but he has bought his trailers, adapting them with air suspension and adding extra openings to improve airflow through the horse compartments.
The standard hours rules are flexible enough to work well in with horse transport. A driver may be able to last longer than 12, but, according to Dippy, you don’t want a horse on a truck for any longer than 12 hours.
Getting drivers who have the right level of skills has been an issue for the business. This is another reason to retain rigid trucks in the fleet, people who know horses often have an MR license. When recruiting the emphasis is on the driver’s ability to work with horses.
“It’s easier to teach a good horseman to drive a truck, than it is to teach a truck driver how to handle horses,” reckons Dippy. When the main priority of the operation is the welfare of the horses, then the fact that a truck is involved is secondary to horse skills.