Former jockey now shearer Lydia is a winner all the way

Doug Laing, Shearing Sports New Zealand, February 10, 2023

Shearer Lydia Thomson

FORMER apprentice jockey Lydia Thomson once dreamed of riding winners in Australia, but has found a niche winning as a sheep shearer.

The New Zealand-born brushed shoulders with now champion Winx and a Gai Waterhouse Melbourne Cup runner while working racehorses in New South Wales, but abandoned her jockey dreams because of what was needed to keep her weight down.

She had been doing a jockey’s apprenticeship, and had the weight down to 50kg, but says she didn’t feel healthy doing it. After turning her back on the horses, pre-training and spelling operation The Hermitage, at The Oaks, about 20 minutes from Camden, NSW, Thomson returned to North Canterbury, where she’d grown-up on a small block around Oxford, with sheep, cattle, chooks, pigs – and horses.

“How I got the shearing bug was I was doing some part-time shed-handing when a shearer from an outside gang was on lend for the day at one of our sheds,” she said. “He just asked me what my background of work was, I told him I rode race horses in Australia, and had done some building work and labouring in New Zealand over the years.”

“After hearing I had a background in physical jobs he said you should become a shearer and I said ‘Okay, haha.”

The same shearer took her “under his wing and taught me to shear from the get go.

“I would go to sheds that he was working at and shear the last sides of some of his sheep during the runs and shear through the breaks,” she said.

“We would go and do some life style blocks to get practice in too, or when he wasn’t rostered on to work we would set up a hungry stand in sheds the other guys from his crew were working,” Thomson said.

“Basically any chance I had to get some practice in I took, till I was ready to get my own stand.

“It was great to find shearing, because it’s the only job I’ve felt the same kind of passion towards as I did at the time as wanting to be a jockey,” she said.

Two years ago, at the age of 29, Thomson took to shearing fulltime and is now making every post a winner, including a victory at the Inangahua A and P Show’s Reefton Shears last Saturday, ironically at a racecourse.

It was her eighth win in 12 junior shearing finals in the three months of competition in the 2022-2023 season, and more than anyone else in any grade has achieved in about 30 shows to date on the Shearing Sports New Zealand calendar. There were just two in her grade in Reefton, but with a couple of national title wins earlier in the season she will be shearing at major shearing and wool handling events the Otago Shears, near Balclutha, this Saturday, and the Southern Shears, a week later on February 17-18, on her way to the Golden Shears goal in Masterton on March 2-4.

“I’ll have to shear a lot better then than I did in my juniors at the weekend, that’s for sure,” she said.

Nationwide there are two other A and P show shearing-only events on Saturday, Northern Wairoa’s Arapohue Show, near Dargaville, and at Te Puke, the only Bay of Plenty show competition this summer.

Veteran shearer and competition organiser Sam won, whose son, Jason, won the Reefton Open final to end a short trip home from Australia, encountered Thomson when he was running the Reefton competition, and observed: “She’s pretty focused.”

His own son, Jason Win, on a three-week trip home from Australia, won the major honour, the open title, in a four-man final of 20 sheep. Thomson had travelled about 240km to find out she was in the proverbial two-horse race, with just one opponent, making it a comparative shot’s-eye of adding Reefton to her season’s other wins, at shows in Rangiora, Ashburton, Christchurch, Nelson, Duvauchelle, Winton, and Tapawera. They included national titles at the Corriedale championships in Christchurch and the Crossbred Lambs championships at Winton. She was also runner-up in the Waimate Shears’ New Zealand long wool championship and the full wool championships at Lumsden.

While disappointed with the turnout in her grade on Saturday – she didn’t reckon she “deserved” to claim another red ribbon in the circumstances, but made the most of the trip by teaming with senior shearer Jock Fitzpatrick to win possibly the first match between a machine shearing team and a blade shearing team. They shore four sheep each and beat a team of former New Zealand World Championships team member Allen Gemmell and Tim Hogg, both also from Canterbury.

Thomson also won a junior and intermediate cleanshear a few hours later at the Ikamatua Hotel.

On Saturday, at Carterhope Estate woolshed, in Carterhope Rd, Te Houka, about 12km south of Balclutha, she’ll be in the heart of passion, with more than 100 shearers and wool handlers expected, many with the same dream of winning at the Golden Shears in three weeks’ time. The race is on.


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