Former Stablemates Set For Different Kosciuszko Climbs

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.

Brad and Better Be Good.

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.”

Belflyer after winning the inaugural Kosciuszko. Credit: Bradley Photos.

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.”

Max Is Mad For Off The Track Thoroughbreds

At 4am every day Max Robinson rolls out of bed, into his riding boots and down to the back paddocks of his Berkley home. The 17-year-old knows its part and parcel of owning horses and is happy to fit in some riding, cleaning and a feed round before heading off to Keira High School. Equally at home on horseback and a motorbike but unable to devote adequate time to both, Max made the choice to focus on showjumping.

“I love going fast but you can’t have a friendship with a motorbike,” he said.

Max’s sacrifice and hard work are already paying off. At the start of the year he was one of just eight talented Pony Club riders from across NSW chosen to be part of an exciting new program in partnership with Racing NSW’s equine welfare division, Team Thoroughbred NSW.

Over the past nine months they have been helping retrain off the track Thoroughbreds for a tri-nations showjumping challenge which will be held at Sydney International Equestrian Centre this week. Riders from France, China and Australia will be competing.

Max and Cliff competing at Dapto Show. Photo credit: Emily Robinson.

During school holidays and on some weekends Max and his fellow Pony Club riders worked with Racing NSW staff and expert coaches from sun up until sundown. Most horses hadn’t had much retraining since retiring from racing so they had to start with the basics. Once they had successfully mastered work in hand, some dressage and pole work they could begin being tested over small jumps and it wasn’t long before they were clearing 1m.

“It was a great experience and I learned so much about retraining off the track Thoroughbreds,” Max said. “Working with Charlie Brister really improved my skills because he rides racehorses in trackwork and competes in showjumping and taught me the tricks he uses himself.”

Before Max even began the program he already had one Thoroughbred in his stable – Spike, an unraced Floral Dynamite gelding which he bought from Team Thoroughbred NSW in 2018 to transform into showjumper.

“He was very quick to learn and always very careful,” Max said. “We had our first competition at Albion Park at the start of this year and came 3rd in the 90cm.”

In the early stages of the program Max came across Razandies Jester and snapped him up too.

“The first thing I noticed was his lovely temperament and his size,” Max said. “He’s a nice big horse at 17 hands which is what I need as I will eventually outgrow Spike.”

Cliff winning a race at Warwick Farm in October 2018. Credit: Bradley Photos.

“He has just been graded to c-grade at Pony Club.”

Max thought he had enough horses when Cliff, formerly trained by Joe Clearly at Queanbeyan, came into Racing NSW’s care. The pair clicked and before he knew it Max was asking his parents if Cliff could come home too.

“Dad won’t let me have warmbloods because they are too expensive but luckily he let me have Cliff,” Max said.

Last weekend Max took Spike and Cliff to Dapto Show to compete in the showjumping classes there. Spike came 2nd in the 1.10m class and 4th in 1.05m while Cliff went clear in the 75cm and had just one rail down in the 90cm.

“It was good to give Cliff another outing before the Tri Nations Showjumping this week,” Max said. “I’m looking forward to being there and cheering him on. I hope he makes good rounds.”

At the conclusion of the Tri Nations Showjumping Challenge Cliff will officially become Max’s.

“I’m aiming to get him jumping 1.3m, 1.4m and my coach Aaron Hadlow thinks he can do it,” Max said.