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.

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