Ringing The “Bell” For The Disabled

He was cut from the finest cloth as a blueblood racehorse and although possessing abundant talent, 28-year-old Bellomahal has since shown his real worth off the racecourse.

Bellomahal, a son of superstar sprinter, Maybe Mahal, has spent most of his post-racetrack days based at the Ballina & District Riding for the Disabled (RDA) Centre.

Kerry Johnston has looked after ‘Bell’ since his racing days and absolutely adores the horse.

“It is hard to put into words my love for this horse, the joy he has given me and others over the past 19 years and the impact he has had on people.”

Bellomahal commenced his racing career in Victoria, having been successful at Flemington and Sandown.

The gelding then headed to Sydney where he won the Spring Cup (Listed race) at Warwick Farm with Mick Dittman aboard.

His dam, Maybe Mahal, was a freakish Bart Cummings-trained sprinter that raced during the 1970s and was 1977/78 Australian Racehorse of the Year.

Maybe Mahal’s list of victories included two Lightning Stakes, a Newmarket Handicap, Craven A Stakes, George Adams Mile, Doomben 10,000 and Doncaster Handicap.

A touching moment as Bellomahal is greeted by Kerry Johnston.

However, Bellomahal’s tally was much more modest, finishing his career with six wins and 13 placings from his 55 starts with $140,000 in prizemoney; good money nearly two decades back.

He wound up his racing days in the NSW Northern Rivers region under the care of Grafton trainer Mike Dougherty, who won a race at Armidale with him and had placings at Ballina and Casino.

“He was always a quiet horse; just a nice type to be around. He was gilt-edged,” Dougherty said.

“When I first offered him to the Riding for the Disabled they said he may be a bit too big and strong but they took him.

“I even offered them a ‘money-back guarantee’ and told them to send him back if he wasn’t the right fit – as I expected, he never came back!”

Veterinarian, Dr Oliver Liyou, has been looking after Bellomahal’s dental work for most of his off-track years and regularly inspects his teeth.

“He’s an incredibly relaxed horse and he’s always been looked after extremely well.”

Bellomahal then landed on Kerry Johnston’s property in February 2000.

“My property at North Teven was, at that time, the home of Ballina & District Riding for the Disabled and he was a gift from Michael Dougherty of Grafton.

“Bell joined other horses at the Centre and was given some training and an introduction to basic aids.

“He responded well to this training and started his life as an RDA horse assisting many children and adults to acquire riding and horsemanship skills.

“It was quite a transformation for him to go from a racehorse to a Riding for the Disabled horse. But he did and he became a much-loved and valued member of the RDA equine team at Ballina.

“In 2013 the Ballina and District RDA Centre moved to another property which had been bequeathed to them. Brian McNamara, a local farmer had donated his beautiful home ‘Glen Burnie’, a 40-hectare cattle property in Teven, to RDA.

“Bell was transferred to my care as he had not been ridden for a year due to his sway back making it difficult to fit a saddle comfortably on him.

“At this stage, Bell started his life as one of the five members of the horse herd facilitating an equine assisted therapy and learning program. This was especially appropriate for Bell as no riding is involved.

“He is the revered wise elder of the horse herd team and has a wonderful ability to respond to people.

“I remember when one of the herd ‘Roy’ was very old, had health problems and had to be put down.

“Bell had been very close to him and just froze when he realised what was happening. He let out this scream – you can never underestimate horses, they certainly know what’s going on.

“Now Bell is assisting children, youth and adults with social and emotional challenges in their healing journey.

“Bell is very sensitive to the emotional state of people around him and will seek them out with his presence.

“Bell enjoys his supplementary feeding program, regular hoof trimming by Abby Parkes, veterinary care by John Clunie and dental care by Oliver Liyou.

“He also is rugged up in summer to avoid the mosquitos, and has winter rugging to keep warm.

“But despite his advancing years he is a wonderful animal and deserves all the love and affection he invariably receives!”

*RDA (NSW) provides riding lessons for disabled community members with programs catering for people with intellectual disabilities, physical disabilities, injuries resulting from accidents, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, Down syndrome, visual and hearing impairments, autism and amputees.

TRT Graduate Earns His Stripes

New South Wales’ Mounted Police Unit has a new recruit.

Valinorean, an unraced seven-year-old previously trained under the Darley banner, has passed the rigorous selection process to become a fully-fledged trooper.

Isaac soon after officially graduating (Pic: Mounted Unit – NSW Police Force).

Kylie Riddell is Senior Sargent at the Redfern-based operation, which covers the entire state, and oversees all of the horse and rider training. Valinorean, who is a full brother to enigmatic sprinter Chetwood, is now known as Isaac.

“He has a very calm nature. Even if he does become a little scared of something, he doesn’t let it define what he is doing at the time,” Riddell explained.

“I was there the first time he was exposed to the police band and you could tell he was a little wary but he didn’t let that overcome him. He still listened to the rider and that’s something that we look for in horses. It doesn’t matter if they are scared, it matters if they are obedient and still listen.

“He is a very personable horse. It was quick for him to become one of the favourites in the stable.”

Outside of the stringent physical checklist, candidates need to be bay, black or brown and must be at least 16 hands high, which in itself rules out many candidates. And that’s just the start.

“From there we go to soundness, thorough vet checks and obviously their temperament. We always trial them under saddle before we even take them on trial,” said Riddell.

It’s little wonder that there’s just 30 horses currently in rotation with ‘Mounties’. However, once a horse earns their stripes they are in for the long haul.

“Usually we run on 18 to 24 depending on our commitments, and the rest are spelled. We rotate through them,” Riddell said.

“They will stay with us for as long as they are physically sound and fit. Our oldest horses here at the moment are rising 22. They get more holidays than the others. It’s a bit of a semi-retirement plan. I find it prolongs their lives when they have a purpose and a job to do. We look after them well here. We have to retire them eventually but we always find them a good reliable home for them.

“We have to be a little more selective with the racehorses only because they have raced so it takes more to do another discipline or retrain them.

“In terms of an advantage, they are very athletic and generally are quite sound than heavier breeds. The thoroughbreds we have are also quite brave and don’t mind being by themselves. We have got a couple of thoroughbreds here that are very good lead horses so they will lead a parade or a public order.

“A lot of them are used to being around crowds. They are usually good with traffic. It does tend to take a little while for them to stand still at lights though, because they are used to being on the move.”

Isaac is very much now a city slicker having swapped the tranquil digs of Agnes Banks, and Riddell offered a glimpse into a week in the life of the Exceed And Excel gelding.

“If it’s a week day and he is not going out on patrol we might start with Centennial Park to exercise the horse. A walk, trot and canter to stretch their legs. Wednesday is shampoo day. Then Thursday through to Sunday he might get exercised in the mornings – either ridden or on the walking machine – and then go out on patrol in the afternoon or evening. A patrol lasts for anywhere between one to three hours on the streets,” Riddell said.

Isaac after taking out the team of four category for Police Horse Classes.

Isaac has adapted to his new career so quickly that Riddell is hopeful of him appearing in the Sydney Royal Easter Show come late March.

*Update: Isaac has since won first prize in the Police Horse Classes, held on the first day of the Show where judges look for the best turned out trooper, horse and gear!

“His rider Pat loves him and they’ve formed a real bond. We’re hoping that we’ll compete with Pat in the troop horse event and we’re also hoping to get him into the Police Musical Ride. We’ll have to continue to monitor how he copes with the police band which is just one more of the challenges that our horses get thrown at them – riding along with the band,” said Riddell, who leads the Ride.

Isaac, who went through what turned out to be a six month trial period, had been marked down as a possible Mounties horse from the get-go by Karen Day, Racing NSW’s Equine Welfare Manager and Scott Brodie who is the head trainer for Racing NSW’s thoroughbred re-training program.

“When we start working with a horse the guys on the ground will flag for temperament pretty early on because a police horse isn’t necessarily a performance horse. They need different things. A level head, to be calm under pressure and to put up with a pretty heavy workload,” said Day.

“The process was long (for Isaac). He went in for a trial in June and he only graduated at the end of January so they put a lot of time and effort into making sure the horses are right before they can join.

“Scott Brody was a Mountie so our association with them goes right back to the beginning. What Scott does is go in and coach the riders who are going to be on those horses because he already knows the horse so he sets the horse and rider up for success from the start.”

Ideally, Day says, there’ll always be two Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Trust (TRT) graduates in the Mounties trialling system at any one time. The latest candidate to be flagged is That’s A Good Idea who will be well known to punters being a Group-placed sprinter and at one stage, the Royal Randwick 1200m track record holder.

Isaac being trained before becoming a Mountie.

“That’s a Good Idea has just gone to the Orchid Hills property and he looks like he will probably get a shot. He has the right temperament,” Day said.

“As soon as he came in you can see it. He is already well balanced. We put a saddle on him soon after her arrived, rode him out in the open and he didn’t put a foot wrong so he probably has got what it takes. That level-headed attitude.”

Group One winner Delectation, who took the scalp of Chautauqua in the 2015 Darley Classic, is another that Day has high hopes for, but perhaps down the eventing path. Just another one of the ways the graduates can go.


“Delectation will be a superstar in whatever he decides to do. He came in with a tendon injury but nothing will stop him having a strong domestic life,” Day said.

“What we’re interested in is the horse’s wellbeing after they finish racing, that’s what we do.”

*This article was originally published in the March edition of the Racing NSW magazine.

Razz Dazzles In Life After Racing

Every day Naomi Benson drives 40 minutes from her home in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire to Scenic NSW Equine Centre at Denham Court to ride, train and spend time with her horse, Razz. The 19-year-old student adopted him from the Racing NSW Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Trust where she volunteers.

Naomi and Razz.

Razz is no ordinary horse though. He’s a retired thoroughbred with an impressive career behind him. Racing fans would remember him as ‘That’s A Good Idea,’ the speedy Peter & Paul Snowden-trained galloper who was stakes placed nine times and earned three quarters of a million dollars in prizemoney.

“I never saw him race but I have watched all the replays and researched his history,” Naomi said. “I managed to get in contact with someone who worked with him when he was racing and they gave me a stack of photos of him. It’s so nice to have them.”

When Naomi, who has been riding since she was eight years old, began looking for a horse she could train for show jumping her preference was for an off the track thoroughbred and Razz caught her eye as soon as he arrived at the Racing NSW TRT.

“When he first came in he hadn’t even been assessed but I liked the look of him and he had such a friendly nature” she said. “I asked Racing NSW TRT’s Community Manager Scott Brodie if he thought he would be suitable for me. A few weeks later after Scott had the chance to work him he said yes and arranged for me to have a ride.”

It didn’t all go to plan though. Naomi mounted Razz but he wouldn’t move. Scott gave her a few pointers and she tried again later that week. This time the ride went smoothly and Naomi couldn’t wait to hop off and sign the paperwork to officially adopt Razz.

“The process took a few weeks and during that time I would go and ride Razz and the other trainers at Racing NSW TRT would give me advice and tips,” she said. “They were really helpful.”

Before a horse is rehomed staff at the Racing NSW Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Trust ensure they are ready to transition into their new career as a competition or pleasure horse. They spend time re-educating it to ensure it’s rideable. They are taught basic commands, balance and to how relax and aren’t eligible for rehoming until they have mastered these skills.

Luckily for Naomi, Razz is a fast learner. She began furthering his education straight away and less than a month after leaving the Racing NSW TRT program they competed in their first dressage event together. They even brought home a red ribbon for second place.

That’s A Good Idea won the Listed Ortensia Stakes in 2015. Credit: Bradley Photos.

“I was very happy with the result,” Naomi said. “But I was even happier with his behaviour. He was calm and relaxed. The other horses didn’t faze him. That put me at complete ease so I could focus on our performance.”

Just last week Razz and Naomi took part in their second dressage event and while they finished fifth this time, they beat their score from their first outing.

Now that Razz has got the hang of dressage, Naomi will soon begin training him for show jumping.

“I think we should be ready to compete in three or four months,” she said. “We need to perfect our flat work, especially our cantering and generally get more comfortable with jumping.

“I’m actually going to change his show name before then. I call him Razz and he’s been competing as That’s A Good Idea but he will soon be known as All That Razz.”

Naomi is confident she has made a smart choice welcoming Razz into her life and wouldn’t hesitate to get another off the track thoroughbred in the future.

“You can tell he was well handled as a racehorse as he has good ground manners and respects me,” she said. “He’s got so much power ready to use which will be advantageous for show jumping. I’m looking forward to seeing him progress with his education and I’m happy I can give him a quality life after racing.”