Former boundary rider, drover, fencer and singer Roy Tyler keeps his love of horses alive through a priceless collection of horse memorabilia, including more than 1200 bits from around the world and Hopalong Cassidy’s saddle.

Story By Darryl Cooper

Roy Tyler's life revolves around horses. His home, near Mareeba in Far North Queensland, is a showcase of equestrian memorabilia with collections of saddles, riding boots and bridles. The walls are adorned with posters of his childhood hero Roy Rogers and a saddle once owned by Hopalong Cassidy has pride of place. He has a coin collection and stamps too – 1372 to date – with every one of them featuring horse pictures or designs.
But Roy’s pride and joy is his awesome collection of bits, which covers the four walls of his display room from floor to ceiling. There are more than 1200 of them from all over the world and he can explain in intimate detail the difference between an English Full Cheek Snaffle and an Uxeter Kimberwick, or point out the added leverage afforded by a Western Curb over an Eggbutt Snaffle. Some of his bits date back to the samurai of the 17th century or the American Civil War. One is a beautifully ornate bit crafted for Queen Victoria’s Household Cavalry.
He has a colonial bit dredged from Sydney Harbour and another, crudely fashioned from barbed wire, which Roy asserts you would never put near a horse’s mouth. “There’s a mule bit here 100 years old and one spanking new one and even if I hated a horse I wouldn’t put that in his mouth,” Roy says. “It’s like a bloody chainsaw.” Apart from their functionality, bits were often an expression of the maker’s artistry. Some are shaped like jewel-studded snakes and one English-made bit has pistols for the shanks. Roy delights in showing people his ‘lady legs’ bits, which are complete with frilled garters and high heels.
Each has a story to tell. The first bit Roy acquired was an American Western Curb, not common in Australia. “I was droving sheep in western Queensland and my Palomino had the western bit, which the boss was always running down, saying I should only use a snaffle,” he says. “I told him I would put my bridle on his horse, cut out a sheep and bring it up to him at the camp fire. He said that couldn’t be done and I said, ‘How much?’ I won £100 that day.”
Roy’s first experience with horses was in England as a 17-year-old, when he answered an advertisement wanting someone to ride a difficult horse that no one could handle. “The boss asked if I could ride and I said, ‘A bit’. I’d never ridden a bloody horse in my life but I had a cowboy hat and a pair of boots so I said I’d give it a try. A week later I was taking 30 people up in the hills trail riding.” Not bad for a kid whose total riding experience came from watching Roy Rogers and ‘Trigger’!

This story excerpt is from Issue #72

Outback Magazine: Aug/Sep 2010