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Enter the cosy Queenslander on the outskirts of Dalby, which is home to Matt and Katie Kropp, and you enter another world entirely.

As well as being a comfortable family home, it is the hub of their business. The walls are festooned with racing photos. Every horizontal space in the two main rooms is laden with winners’ trophies ranging from discreet etched glass to silver cups to bronzes. Even the lamp between two comfortable leather sofas is a trophy, while a huge, out-there porcelain horse’s head on an enormous ornate silver base celebrates one of their Dalby Cup wins. Outside, their 30 acre holding is alive with the hustle and bustle of feed-up time.

Stables are being cleaned out, feeds are being prepared, horses groomed and exercised. This is animal territory. It’s a place where everyone, man and beast, (even a fat and happy free-ranging duck dining on grain spills) weighs in to create a busy, symbiotic social structure in which everyone has a place, and there is a place for everyone. Central to all this activity are horse trainer Matt Kropp and his partner Katie. They are a tight-knit team. They have to be. It would simply not be possible otherwise to get through all it takes to run two racing stables an hour distant from each other, with a total of 28 horses in training. It seems that love is the pivotal force in this lifestyle; the love of what they do, for each other, for their animals. It’s a binding force and it has taken them places – fulfilling their dreams to date, bringing them success, and fuelling their hopes for the future.

Matt, who is as laconic and personable as he is focused and efficient in his business, sits back, stretches his legs and scratches his head thoughtfully. “Oh yes, we’ve won half a dozen Eastern Downs Premierships and half a dozen Dalby Premierships as well. We’re really proud of that.” With a couple of Dalby Cups under their belt – including this year’s – and a couple of Plough Inn Cups (arguably Australia’s oldest, first run in 1857) too, so they should be.It’s a great achievement. These successes do not happen in isolation. Training horses is a huge job. Matt’s phone is rarely away from his ear. Owners discussing tactics, jockeys looking for rides, finding the right race in the right place for each of the 28 horses in training, and then organising a start.

There’s racing happening somewhere in Australia every day of the year except Christmas and Good Friday. For Matt and Katie it’s a day-in, day-out labour of love. Matt rises daily at 10 to two, leaving home at 3am for a 4am start in Toowoomba, an hour away. “Except Sunday. Most Sundays I try to take a break. Didn’t for the last three though. It’s a lot of fun, the racing game. A lotta good memories come out of the races.”

Words by Jane Grieve | Images by Janine Waters