While the inaugural winner of The Kosciuszko, Belflyer, has his sights set on defending his title on Saturday, a former John Shelton stablemate owned by the same people is gearing up for a Kosciuszko challenge of his own.
Better Be Good raced in the same green and brown chequered silks made famous by Belflyer, notching three wins and six places before retiring in late 2018. He then came into Racing NSW’s rehoming program and began training for his next career. His sweet and gentle temperament made him ideal for the Spur equine therapy program, which culminates in a five-day trail ride through Kosciuszko National Park next week.
The Spur program is a partnership between Racing NSW and RSL LifeCare which sees veterans and former emergency service personnel with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder learn horse care and riding to reduce stress and promote enjoyment. It began in March and most of the participants had no prior experience with horses.
Better Be Good was matched with former sailor Brad Golder, a kind and softly-spoken man with a natural affinity with animals. Brad joined the Navy straight from school and served for close to two decades but like too many others, when it came time to discharge he struggled to adjust to civilian life.
“I became depressed, turned to the bottle and drank too much,” Brad said. “I was unable to secure a job and ended up in a rehab centre.”
Brad eventually went to live with other veterans in RSL LifeCare’s Homes For Heroes program. It was there he was introduced to equine therapy. Brad was initially scared of horses but others in the group would go up to the horses with him until he was confident enough to pat them by himself.
In early 2019 Brad was asked if he would like to apply for the Spur equine therapy program and eagerly filled out the forms. He was delighted when he was accepted into the program but was equally nervous when he arrived for Day 1 at RSL LifeCare’s Picton farm. He didn’t need to be though. His connection with Better Be Good was instant and Spur quickly became the highlight of his week.
“The camaraderie, the people around, how everyone helps each other,” Brad said, describing his favourite things about Spur. “We look after the horses and they look after us.”
Over the course of eight months the participants in the Spur program have been learning basic horse handling and care, ground work and riding. Officially the course runs on Thursdays and Saturdays but most participants volunteer their time more regularly.
“They’re here practically every day, whether they are feeding the horses, grooming them or just practising the exercises they have learned,” Course Manager Max Streeter said. “Some of them were very withdrawn when they started and you see them today and they are excited, they’re pumped and they’re confident.”
Brad is among those who have come the furthest and he credits Better Be Good for his newfound confidence.
“He’s amazing,” Brad said. “Everything he does is to protect me. I’ve got no fears of falling off him because I don’t think he’d let me! When I put my arms around his neck fumbling around with the halter he just stands there patiently. He can sense when I am feeling sad and he comforts me by putting his head on my shoulder.”
The Spur participants and their Thoroughbreds will embark on the ultimate challenge this Monday – a five-day trail through Kosciuszko National Park.
“We will be putting everything we have learned into practice,” Brad. “I’m really looking forward to it. This is the last thing I thought I would be doing 12 months ago and I never imagined I’d be able to ride out in the open but here we are. BBG will take care of me.”
Better Be Good’s former owner, Janet Hogan, was delighted to hear about his new career.
“We could not be happier that he is now working with people that he loves and more importantly he is with people who love him back,” she said. “We are so happy that he is now in a position to help people change their lives and to give hope and happiness to those who struggled to find it. We feel rewarded that our horse was able to do this and while he was cut down in his prime he can still offer others many more years of happiness in his current role.”