Laura Douglas: Southern Girl Finishing School

Eight girls, a huddle of shivering adults, puppies… goats… horses and the cutest little pig in the world. What a great mix in Laura Douglas’ inaugural “Southern Girl Finishing School” workshop.

Let’s dive into the day.

“Aren’t we lucky with the weather,” beamed Laura, meeting me at the farm gate.

I gazed at the grey clouds licking the mountains and wistfully remembered the thermal tights I’d rejected back in my warm home.

But, the weather forecast had been dire. Further north they were getting gales and downpours. There were even snow warnings out for the mountain passes. But in this particular piece of paradise, all was calm and cold.

“Yes,” I agreed. “We are lucky!”

And we were, because Laura was about to put on a cracking workshop. Her first-ever “Southern Girl Finishing School” day had finally arrived.

Southern Girl Finishing School Begins

This was Laura’s long-held dream. Her aim: to teach other Southern Girls the practical skills and can-do attitude that she grew up with on the farm.

So she was thrilled to welcome the eight eager 11-14 year-olds. They came from the north and south, farms and towns and all were ready to have a ball.

“Thanks for coming, girls,” Laura greeted them. “You’re my guinea pigs. I hope that you make some new friends and get heaps of fun and learning out of today.”

Into two teams they went and immediately learned their first task: “Huddle in and pick a name for your team.” 

That done, the ‘Potatoes’ and ‘Wild Idiots’ couldn’t wait to begin.

An Action-Packed Practical Programme

Lunging horses 

“Dogs need a master, but horses need a leader,” Laura explained. “In the wild, a herd trusts the leader to keep them safe, but they test them too, to make sure they’re still the best.

So if a horse turns his back on you, or bunts when you bring the feed bucket, he’s testing you. He’ll be able to tell your strength and emotions from the tone of your voice. He can read confidence in your gestures and your energy. Don’t let him get away with those little signs of disrespect.”

With that, the lunging class began.

A Southern Girl lunging a horse.

SGFS TOP TIP:

Horses mirror the energy and emotion you’re giving them. Keep calm when you want them to walk. Up your energy and movement to move them to a trot.

Nail it or tie it down

While the Potatoes were lunging horses, the Wild Idiots pounded enormous nails into a stump and learnt to tie down strops on a trailer.

Tara shows a Southern Girl how to tie down with a strop on a trailer.

SGFS TOP TIP:

When you’re rolling up a strop start in the middle so you can roll it up twice as fast.

Shifting sheep — no dogs allowed

“Here’s the scenario,” said Laura, waving her arm at a small mob of sheep milling around by the fence. “You come across a few* sheep where they’ve no right to be, and it’s up to you to get them through the gates and back in their pen.

How do you do it without a dog?”

A Southern Girl behind ten sheep.
* It’s harder to direct ten sheep than it is to move a hundred. The secret is knowing where to stand.

Laura’s speciality is cracking the stockwhip

Laura shows a Southern Girl how to crack a stockwhip.

FUN FACT:

A whip-crack sounds louder when you’re further away so when you master it, it sounds much louder to your audience (or the cattle you’re shifting) than it does to you. 

It looks quite simple when Laura cracks the whip. The girls soon found out it’s not as easy as it seems.

Fencing – the girls gain new respect for the humble wire fence.

“Imagine you’ve driven into a fence on the farm. Can you fix it before Dad finds out?”

A southern girl twists some wire during the fence-fixing lesson.
Laura could have done with this knowledge back in the day when she had that very same problem. Thanks to Danny Hayes, the girls have now got a bit of a head start when it comes to fixing fences.

Changing Tyres and Jump-Starting Tractors

After lunch, we got into the mechanical side of the programme.

“When you get a car check the spare tyre, jack and tool kit. Find out where they live and what condition they’re in before you need them,” Laura told her rapt audience. 

It’s no fun getting stuck in the back of beyond with a flat tyre and no jack.

And have you ever struggled to remember which way to loosen a bolt? Laura’s got a catchphrase to help. 
Think:  “Lefty Lucy and Righty-tighty” and you’ll never be caught out again.

The Southern Girls cluster around Laura  while learning how to jump start her old red tractor.

Getting to grips with the jumper leads.

SGFS TOP TIP

Always turn the Jump Pack OFF after you’ve used it.

Most exciting of all – the shooting range

Yes, the girls loved all their activities – but the shooting was surely their highlight. Real Country uses a rustic maimai out on the farm for its shooting range. This is where Laura’s guests get to try out their target and clay bird shooting skills.

So Laura packed her Southern Girls and puppies into the sturdy van and off we drove.

THERE WAS SO MUCH TO LEARN… 

  • Parts of a gun
  • How to look through a scope
  • Finding your “dominant eye”
  • How to stand
  • How to aim
  • Pulling the trigger
  • Difference between a bullet and a shotgun cartridge

And after all that, quite a few girls even hit the target and the clay.

Tara Lawrence coaches one of the Southern Girls on how to look through the scope on her rifle.
Tara Lawrence from Farmlands has worn the silver fern for NZ as a shooter so the girls were learning from an expert.

It’s Real Country! Of course there were animals.

Who wouldn’t love an old sheepdog and bouncy puppies? Our Southern Girls definitely did. Add in horses, a pony, one goat with attitude and a nosy little pig and you’ve got the perfect Real Country mix.
So, when they weren’t busy farming the girls were cuddling puppies or plaiting the old pony’s tail.

It was a perfect way to foster that spirit of confidence and camaraderie that made the day so special.

Attitude Is Everything

To Laura that Southern Girl Can-Do Attitude is the goal.

“I made a change, from the corporate life I thought was “expected” to this,” she says. “This” is Real Country, Laura’s own, farm-experience tourism business. 

“My farm upbringing gave me the skills and attitude to give it a go when I wanted to start my own business. And that’s what I want to pass onto these girls.”

SGFS TOP TIP

Just because you don’t know how to do something, it shouldn’t be a barrier. Your can-do attitude will help you find the way.

Southern Girls’ Verdict

“Honest opinions, girls,” said Laura as we returned to Real Country headquarters. “Did you enjoy your day.”

“YES!” came the chorus

“And what could I do better next time?” 

The answer took her breath away.

“Make it a CAMP!”

Southern Girl Finishing School Thanks

Laura Douglas of Real Country and the Southern Girl Finishing School with her farming dad, John.
Laura and John Douglas stop for a cuppa at the first-ever Southern Girl Finishing School.

You can’t put on a wonderful workshop without some special helpers. Laura’s grateful to Tara Lawrence from Farmlands, Danny Hayes (for the fencing) and Chris Dore who took so many photos during the day. Laura’s family came up trumps too, with Dad, John and sister Alexis giving invaluable support throughout.

Photo Credits: Chris Dore

Laura Features On My Southland Story Too

Contact Real Country

Real Country Website

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