“We’re very lucky that our lifestyle, our job, our income, our hobby and our friends are all the same thing. It’s everything to us.”
It quickly became clear to me that luck played no part and Mrs Felicity Burton, alongside her husband Karl, have made their own luck through sheer perseverance, sweat and a seriously savvy attitude. I sat down with Flip to find out more about the Burton vision and the important role she has played in achieving their dreams. Be prepared to be exhausted, because this girl is certainly not afraid of hard work.
From a young age, Felicity was interested in horses and started riding at five, but never really gave too much thought to how she could connect the dots and make a living from the land.
Graduating high school with an offer to study psychology, she opted to work for her parents for a year because, like most teenagers, she really had no idea what she wanted to do. At the end of her gap year, she trudged off to uni and after six months definitively decided “it was not for her.” So, what does a girl with a passion for horses do? “I went mustering, riding breakers and young horses for two years and never really thought about what I was going to do after that.” By her own admission, “I just had fun doing it.”
“I just had fun doing it.”
Everything changed when Karl and Flip met 10 years ago and the conversations centered around what they were going to do and where they were going to end up. Karl’s vision was to have a cattle property. “That’s all he ever wanted to do and the idea of it to me was just perfect.” However, the frank reality was simple: riding and training horses would not make it happen. Undeterred, they diversified and in a remarkable fashion. So much so that Flip is refreshingly honest when she admits, “We wouldn’t be where we are today if we hadn’t.” From using their horses to go contract mustering, to working at the saleyards for a number of livestock agents scanning and drafting cattle, they generated increased cash flow and in the process lost plenty of sleep. It would be nothing for the duo to do a day’s work mustering till around 4:00pm, start at the saleyards at 5:00pm and work through till 4:00am before having a quick camp to be back at the yards by 8:00am. Twenty-one hour days were a frequent occurrence and all in a bid to acquire cattle and more land.
Taking a step back from training and riding for others, has allowed Felicity to focus more on their own brand - Diamond K Performance Horses.
Her primary role is to prep, ride and market their sale horses. Selling, on average ten horses per year, at four major sales: Tamworth (February), Toowoomba (April), Charters Towers (May) and Dalby (December), ensures the start of the year is very hectic. As soon as foals hit the ground, Flip starts thinking about when to sell or whether to draft them out and keep for themselves. Undoubtedly, she has an eye for detail as Diamond K Performance horses are renowned for their winning performances in both the campdraft and challenge arenas. It is this winning formula in competition that has contributed significantly to their favourable reputation for quality breeding and led directly to the sale of performed, ready-to-compete horses. However, it’s not all business; there is plenty of enjoyment attached. “I enjoy the refinement of challenging” and the feeling of “having a horse of my own that I believe in and know has enough ability to do well at a show is very rewarding.”
As if she didn’t already have enough feathers in her cap, Felicity’s credentials have also seen her be invited to judge challenge competitions too. Surprisingly, this esteemed rider’s greatest passion quite often sees her with her feet firmly planted on the ground.
A sole initiative of Flip’s that has further diversified the Burton portfolio is her coaching business. Riding for twenty-five years has ensured her impressive resume has others wanting to hone their skills under her guidance. Flip first cut her teeth with coaching under a government run initiative servicing Ingham, Townsville and Longreach. For four years, she worked with mostly male ex-criminals to teach them to ride, thus, increasing their job opportunities and life skills. In particular, the juvenile initiative used the horses to show the kids love and care so they could learn about compassion and what it means to look after something, and grow from the experience. Working with juvenile boys who had trouble with authority was certainly confronting but Flip embraced the opportunity. “The first thing I would do is pick the horse’s back foot up or stick my hand in it’s mouth and the kids would be really intrigued that I still had ten fingers.. nor was I lame from being kicked…It made them want to be able to do that. I found the process really rewarding because they were naturally athletic and would pick up riding easily and we’d have a ball.” Now Flip teaches fourteen private clients aged from five to sixty, beginner to professional and hosts schools at home, and clinics for pony clubs and challenge committees. If she could choose any project to work on for the next year, it would be strengthening her coaching business because she gets “a real kick out of teaching people and has all the time in the world for someone who wants to better themselves.” A philosophy she put to the test when navigating the speed bumps along her journey.
The road forward was not without setbacks. In 2014, a lack of rain, adequate feed and machinery malfunctions coincided with their wedding and six-week honeymoon overseas. Left with no choice but to destock, they sold any cattle they had and upon arriving home, started again. That was nothing in comparison to the frustration Flip felt receiving the repeated knockbacks when trying to purchase their Cooranga North property. “It was hard. Knowing we were capable of doing it and both so passionate about growing, only to have someone, a bank or financier, not willing to back us.” Instead of allowing the kicks in the teeth to beat them, Flip used the experience to make her a stronger person and learn how to put better portfolios together. “Obviously now we have got ourselves a property and it’s all dandy, but it certainly wasn’t on our first attempt that we bought the property.”
Despite the impressive reputation she has built within the horse industry as joint owner and manager of Diamond K Performance Horses with husband Karl, she did not hesitate when asked - What’s your greatest achievement and how did it shape you? “Marrying my best friend. We boost each other up so much. We bounce off each other and neither of us would be where we are without each other. It’s certainly not one person leading the charge and the other following. We just do everything together.”
They have undeniably forged a real partnership. From making a decision on cattle in the yards to what they are going to cook for dinner, it’s always a team effort. It’s not a matter of “if”, but rather “when” the Burtons will fulfill their dream to expand their holdings west and own a much larger property capable of running more cattle.
But first, Felicity must tackle her next challenge of motherhood. (Did I mention she interviewed at 39 weeks pregnant and showed no signs of baby brain? Impressive!) Her kind-hearted nature coupled with her determination will ensure she is a doting mum who also rides high in the saddle. I have a feeling it will be full steam ahead and business as usual at “Tarko,” albeit it be a little bit cuter.
Good luck now and in the future!
Wattle & Twine x
Post script: Karl and Felicity welcomed a beautiful blue bundle - Kory William Burton - on 18 January 2017 weighing 7lb2oz. Get to know Flip more in our interview below as she shares some advice and gives us some insight into the inspirational women in her life.
Would you rather…
Sunrise or sunset? Sunset
Summer or Winter? Summer
Cat or dog? Dog
Watch TV or read a book? Watching TV
Have a night out or an evening in? Night Out
Who are your three dream dinner party guests, living or dead? “Karl!” I could almost see the cogs turning over as she deliberated on who would take the remaining spots. But, her final answer, “the people I’m close to, my family and friends,” reveals her heart of gold.
What sound do you love? Peace and quiet.
What animal best represents you? Why? A horse because of what we do I couldn’t say anything else. If I was to try and match a characteristic I might struggle though because they can be as difficult as then can be graceful.
What’s your fondest childhood memory? Going to my grandparents’ place on the esplanade at Bargara and spending literally every holidays at the beach with our cousins. I loved it. Riding around the backyard on mum’s pushbikes from when she was a kid and making our own fun. The simple things in life, hey!
Name three inspirational women you admire.
- My mum Meg Forsyth – such a strong, kind, loving woman that has made a beautiful life for her family and always put others first – above all things family is the most important thing to me. I never stop learning from her.
- My grandmother Joan Volze – a very strong woman who had been dealt a terrible hand with unfortunate medical misdiagnosis that included a mastectomy, hysterectomy, heart transplant and ongoing brain tumour. Considering all this she put on a brave face, as the wife of a cane farmer, raised a family of four children, remained resilient and lived well into her 70s.
- Every other strong woman that believes in herself and has a go. Life’s too short to live in the shadows of others or doubt yourself.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given? Follow my dreams! This is coming purely from my parents – if you enjoy what you do, the rest will fall into place. Do what you love.
What is your favourite thing about your lifestyle/career? I love that you can be your own boss and like being able to plan my own day and work to my own song. And then reap the rewards of what you sow. You put in a huge day and you know that it is all for us and improving what we’re going to get out of it in the end.
If you could learn to do anything, what would it be? I would like to play the piano really well. I can play, but not really well. I just love music and particularly making music. It makes my heart sing.
Who would you want to play you in a movie of your life? Jennifer Aniston because she seems to be a relatively down to earth person that has had her own struggles. I would hope it wasn’t a ditzy person. One thing I dislike is being judged on appearance.
If you could change one law, what would it be? The compulsory acquisition/resumption of land for mining or development. I think it’s really sad when generations have lived on a property, raised a family, built a life and business and then have to up and leave. It would be heart wrenching. I’d change that if I could.
What advice would you give to someone who was lost and at the beginning of their journey given your experience and knockbacks? Don’t make silly decisions! Think things through as much as you possibly can with as much foresight as you can. Stay true to yourself and keep working towards something that you enjoy. Life falls into place if you trust you are headed in the right direction.