Blixam’s Found Her True Calling With Bella

By Julieanne Horsman

Isabella Marcellos loved growing up in the bustling Eastern suburbs of Sydney, but she also relished every trip to her Grandmother’s family farm at Tamworth. School holidays would see the car loaded to the brim and driven north for a week of outdoor fun and adventure. Isabella especially looked forward to riding Silver the Shetland Pony.

“It’s safe to say my love of horses blossomed on Silver’s back when I was 3 or 4,” Isabella said with a laugh.

By the age of 10, after much begging and many business case presentations to her parents, Isabella was finally given a pony of her own. Buttons was a Welsh Riding Pony Cross and the perfect starter, but it wasn’t long before she needed something more.

“A family friend gave me their retired racehorse, Spy High, and while I did a lot of work with him on the ground, he had a few quirks and was just too much to ride for a young girl,” Isabella said. “I still have him though. He’s 16 now.”

Isabella eventually got her first competition horse and several others after that. Dressage, showjumping, eventing, Interschools and gymkhanas. You name it, she did it, constantly developing her natural talent and improving the skills of her horses.

Blixam showing her scope and technique over the 95cm jump at Sydney Showjumping Club. Credit Geosnapshot.

Fast forward to 2020 and Isabella was looking for her next Thoroughbred to retrain as a showjumper. A fellow equestrian was enjoying success with a retired racehorse she had bought from Team Thoroughbred NSW, Racing NSW’s equine welfare and re-homing division, so Isabella decided to start her search there.

“Being a welfare centre, Team Thoroughbred is solely focussed on the best outcome for the horse so I knew they would be open and honest about its history to ensure an appropriate home,” Isabella said. “I wanted a sound horse no older than six with a great temperament, so I reached out to one of the staff members, filled in the paperwork and got the ball rolling.”

Isabella booked in an inspection of several horses which met her criteria at Bart’s Farm, one of four properties owned by Racing NSW where retired racehorses and Thoroughbreds who didn’t make the track can go to be cared for, re-trained and re-homed.  Isabella tried a couple of different horses but wasn’t sold any of them. Then she tried Blixam, a five-year-old Strada x Teens mare who had finished last in all but one of her five starts. She wasn’t overly pretty and quite green under saddle, but when jumped on the lunge she had a nice shape over the fence.

“There was no love at first sight,” Isabella said. “It wasn’t until I went home and reflected on her qualities that I decided to adopt her. Even when she got off the truck I wasn’t certain I had made the right choice, but she was so quiet and calm. I lunged her in an open arena, and she was responding to my voice commands and working in a 20m circle. Her basics were very good.”

Isabella continued Blixam’s re-education and by February this year, they were ready for their first outing. They scored 64% in their dressage test at Sydney International Equestrian Centre and while that was a solid result, Isabella was most impressed with Blixam’s behaviour on the day.

The following month they tackled their first EVA80 one day event, also at SIEC.

Isabella and Blixam have formed a powerful jumping combination. Credit Ray Watson – Snapshot Australia.

“She wasn’t an instant superstar, but she tried hard, and it was a good opportunity to see where she was doing well and which areas needed work,” Isabella said.

The greatest challenge and most successful day so far came at Sydney Showjumping Club at the end of Autumn. It was Isabella’s first time attending a competition on her own, but she need not have worried. Blixam did not put a hoof wrong and went double clear in both her classes, one of which was her first attempt at 95cm.

“I was ecstatic that day,” Isabella said. “It gave me a little insight into what might be possible. I think Blix has plenty of talent and a lot more to give. I would like to see her in the 1.10m showjumping classes in the coming months and improve her eventing.”

Having Blixam has also opened the door to the racing industry for Isabella, now 22.

“I’ve made a group of girlfriends who also own off the track Thoroughbreds and most of them either work in the racing industry or are involved in some way,” she said. “I recently attended my first Young Professionals in Racing event which was a lot of fun and a great chance to meet new people.”

Just a few weeks ago Isabella made a surprise addition to her stable. Blixam’s two-year-old half-brother by Panzer Division, Blue Poison, had been suspended from racing for being uncompetitive and was looking for a new home. Isabella wasn’t looking for another horse but went to inspect him anyway, and this time it was love at first sight.

“He’s a big horse and he’s only two so I think he will mature nicely,” Isabella said. “As a two-year-old, only weeks off the track he was even better than Blixam. I rode him for the first time at Centennial Park where there are a lot of other things going on and I was blown away by how sensible he was. He has gone up to the farm at Tamworth for a long spell to grow and mature. Eventually, we will work out which disciplines he is most suited to and go from there.

“I really love how versatile and trainable Thoroughbreds are and I’m sure I will enjoy working with the breed for many years to come.”

Retired Racehorses Keeping Light Horse Legend Alive

By Julieanne Horsman

Sitting astride seasoned Wagga galloper Zarlu, Brad Clark’s heart is pounding. It’s something he has done literally hundreds of times before, but this time is different. It is their first ANZAC Day Dawn Service together as part of the 7th Light Horse Gundagai Troop and Brad is determined to nail it. They had practiced from sunup ‘til sundown the day before, leaving nothing to chance.

To his right is Troop President Wes Leseberg on former David Blundell-trained galloper Hovell Street. On his left is Wes’ wife Danielle on former Michelle Borserio-trained gelding Badraan. Retired racehorses Aussie James, Bang Bang, and Urbane Valour are also among the formation.

It was the first of four services the 7th Light Horse Gundagai Troop would take part in that day. After the Gundagai dawn service, they raced up to Tumblong’s morning service, then it was back to Gundagai for the march, and finally onto Jugiong for its afternoon service. Brad need not have worried. They all went off with military precision.

“It’s an important day in Australia’s history and it was honour to be part of the commemorations,”
 Brad said. “My pop on my mum’s side, Thomas Patrick Hampton, was a light horseman so that made it even more special.”

Joseph Roberts on Bang Bang, Danielle Leseberg on Badraan, Brad Clark on Zarlu, Sandra McMillan on Urbane Valour, Wes Leseberg on Hovell Street and Kerrie Stewart on Aussie James lead the Gundagai ANZAC Day Parade down Sheridan Street,

Since retiring from race riding after more than 20 years as a professional jockey, Brad has been an active member of the 7th Light Horse Gundagai Troop which performs historical re-enactments to keep the traditions of the Australian Light Horse alive. The troop was co-founded by Brad’s friend, popular Gundagai horseman Luke Dowell and his father Ronnie in 2012. He had been working with Harden-Murrumburrah’s Light Horse Troop and wanted to form one in Gundagai so he teamed up with former Police Officer Wes Leseberg and a handful others to make it happen.

Tragically, Luke was killed in a road accident in 2017. He was travelling home from work near Wanterbadgery when his ute rolled off the road. Luke left behind a heartbroken wife, devastated twin children and countless shattered family members and friends. Brad had always helped organise the 7th Light Horse Gundagai Troop performances, particularly at the races, and had intended to become more involved but this provided stronger motivation than ever. He made a promise to Luke’s wife Kerrie Stewart he would help foster and support Luke’s dream. Kerrie remains a committed member of the troop as the Treasurer.

Currently there are 20 members of the troop including a handful of non-riders who participate in the re-enactments. They range in age from Wes’ daughter Olivia who is eight to Wes’ father Paul who is 74. The Jugiong service marked a special milestone for the Leseberg family as it was the first time Wes, his wife, their daughter and Wes’ father had all performed together.

“Having three generations from one family doing something we love together is really special,” Wes said.

Paul, Olivia, Wes and Danielle make up three generations of Lesebergs riding together at the Jugiong ANZAC Day service.

The breed of choice for the troop is the Thoroughbred with almost all of the mounts coming off the track from around the Southern Districts. Owners often approach troop members to adopt their retired racehorses because they want them to be part of something meaningful.

“Most of the troop is connected to racing somehow,” Wes said. “Dad has always had horses and we’ve bred and raced our own. The Thoroughbred is such a versatile breed and it’s important to give them a quality life after racing. Besides, why have a Mini Moke when you can have a Ferrari!”

Once they come into the troop the horses do a lot of desensitisation to get them ready for large, noisy crowds and the sounds that come with re-enactments including gunfire. Leading into an event, preparation starts a minimum of six weeks in advance.  The horses are worked at least every second day and intensive training sessions are held on weekends. Wes’ horses are used daily for cattle work at his family farm in Jugiong so they are always ready to go.

Brad has ridden several horses in the troop in a race but none are more special to him than Zarlu. He rode him in track work daily and was in the saddle for seven of his nine race wins. As he was nearing the end of his racing career, Brad reached out to owner Bill Prigg and asked if he could adopt him when he retired.

“When I told Bill what I wanted to do with him he was thrilled and agreed straight away,” Brad said. “Zarlu was always a dream to ride. I would let the apprentices ride him for confidence. It’s no surprise he has been such a delight to retrain. He lives at a friend’s property on the outskirts of Wagga and I ride him every weekend. Even my 14-year-old daughter likes to ride him.”

Zarlu and Brad Clark notch their final win together at the Murrumbidgee Turf Club. Credit – Kylie Shaw, Trackpix Racing Photography.

The 7th Light Horse Gundagai Troop can be booked for almost any event and while commemorative services like ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day are done for free, they do charge a small fee for re-enactments and other performances to help cover their costs. They have a collection of uniforms ranging from the 1620s to WWI and also have the corresponding replica weapons.

“It’s not about us, it’s about helping people remember the sacrifices of those who have gone before us,” Wes said.

Prior to the arrival of Covid-19, the troop was due to travel to South Africa to help train the anti-poaching rangers who patrol the national parks. While they can’t take their horses with them, they are hoping to go there next year and continue with the program as planned.

“I’m proud of our horsemanship and everything the troop continues to achieve,” Wes said.

This story originally appeared in the June issue of Racing NSW Magazine.

First Nations Youths Get Leg Up Into Horse Racing Industry

By Julieanne Horsman

When horses have been a part of your life for a long time, it is easy to take them for granted. But for underprivileged youths from the suburban fringes of Sydney, the tickle of a horse gobbling up a carrot from their palm or the comfort of a soft, warm muzzle against their cheek is something they can only dream of. Team Thoroughbred NSW is out to change that with the Wanyuwa program.

Run in partnership with renowned Aboriginal service provider KARI Foundation, Wanyuwa aims to give young people an introduction to horses, a taste of the wide variety of career opportunities on offer in the racing industry and an overview of the study options available through Team Thoroughbred NSW Training Academy, all in a safe and caring environment.

“There are hundreds of different jobs within the Thoroughbred racing industry that can take you across the country and around the world, but you can’t chase these opportunities if you don’t know they are there,” Team Thoroughbred NSW Rehoming Co-ordinator LaToyah James said. “Sometimes all it takes is a single pat to ignite a passion for life and we are eager to facilitate that.”

Watching horses in action at the Hawkesbury trials was a highlight of the Wanyuwa program.

Nine brave participants aged between 16 and 22 signed up for the first session of Wanyuwa. Some had never even touched a horse before but were keen to make the most of the opportunity to learn and discover. Supported by five KARI mentors, the first stop was Hawkesbury Racecourse for a behind-the-scenes look at the trials.

On arrival the group was greeted by LaToyah James and Team Thoroughbred NSW Training Academy’s Workplace Trainer and Assessor, Daniel Power who gave an overview of a career as a stablehand, trackwork rider or jockey. They were then driven out onto the track and took up prime position next to the barriers. The participants watched intently as the horses were loaded in and delighted in the excitement as they took off.

“For someone who is fit, agile and enjoys working outdoors, a career as a stablehand or barrier attendant could be highly appealing,” Miss James said.

Next up was a look inside a horse transport truck, followed by a tour of the race day stalls and a chat with some jockeys and stablehands. Then it was off to Bart’s Farm at nearby Castlereagh to learn about equine welfare and life after racing.

The team after watching a riding demonstration at Bart’s Farm.

Racing NSW operates a world-leading equine welfare program which includes providing a safety net for retired NSW racehorses and Thoroughbreds who didn’t make the track to ensure they always have a quality home to go to. They are cared for, retrained and rehomed at several farms across the state and Bart’s Farm is the Sydney facility.

The Wanyuwa group watched a lunging and riding demonstration, learned about the rehoming process, picked up tack used for training and riding horses, heard stories about the legendary Bart Cummings and went on a walking tour of Bart’s Farm but the magic happened when it came time to feed the horses. Kilograms of carrots and apples were handed out, participants picked their favourite horse and gingerly offered up the treats. Some were a little hesitant at first but within minutes there were smiles and pats all around.

“Seeing their faces light up as they interacted positively with the horses really made my day,” Miss James said.

At the end of the day, everyone received certificates and four of the participants indicated they would like to take the next step towards a career with horses.

“My Favourite thing was going to Bart’s Farm and looking at how they treat the retired racehorses, and how they set them up for their next homes,” participant Jazmine O’Rourke said.

“I loved getting the opportunity to feed the horses,” participant Luke Wooden said.

“It was Interesting learning all the employment opportunities in the racing industry, the horse’s life in racing and what happens after racing at Bart’s farm. The information provided by the racing staff was also very interesting,” participant Chris Jones Cerssiman said.

“I really enjoyed getting to know the horses’ routine and their day to day activities,” participant Maya-Rose Kinder said.

The group chatted under the big old Jacaranda trees until it was time to go, and as the minibus drove out the gates, the Team Thoroughbred staff felt a little pang of sadness. They had an unforgettable day sharing their passion with the Wanyuwa program and hoped they would see the participants again.

“Ultimately our goal is to guide anyone who is interested into a fulfilling career but even if they just had a good time with the horses, we’re more than happy with that.”

The quickest way to become Happy Clapper’s best friend is to feed him treats.

Happy Clapper’s Homecoming

By Julieanne Horsman

Mapping out each racehorse’s retirement plan is an important responsibility of every trainer, but when the horse is a three-time Group 1 winner who has been a stable favourite for more than seven years, the process becomes a lot more challenging. Trainer Pat Webster called time on Happy Clapper’s racing career in April 2020 with a record of 12 wins, 18 places and earnings of more than $7million. There was no shortage of people eager to adopt the champion gelding, but Pat and owner Michael Thomas wanted to be certain he would have a wonderful home for the rest of his life, so they decided to retire him into the care of Racing NSW’s equine welfare and rehoming division, Team Thoroughbred NSW.

“We considered a few options but settled on Team Thoroughbred NSW because we knew he would be looked after and loved forever,” Mr Webster said. “He’s got his own place in the history books as the only horse to have ever won The Doncaster, The Epsom and The Villiers and he deserves to be celebrated.”

Team Thoroughbred NSW provides a safety net for retired NSW racehorses and those who did not make the track. If they do not have a quality home to go to at any point in their lives, regardless of performance, they can be given to Team Thoroughbred NSW to be cared for, retrained and rehomed. However, unlike most of the horses at Team Thoroughbred NSW’s farms, Happy Clapper is not available for adoption. Instead, he has been given an important role as an ambassador for life after racing, and on day one of The Star Championships he completed his first major assignment.

Looking every bit the champion the public had come to know and love, Happy Clapper stepped out into the Theatre Of The Horse at Royal Randwick ahead of the 2021 Doncaster field. Fans filled every space, cheering and snapping photographs and videos of the people’s horse. There was a touch of déjà vu about Happy Clapper’s presence, with the gelding having paraded around the same circuit ahead of the 2018 Doncaster – a race he went on to win by two lengths. When it was time, Happy Clapper led the 20 Doncaster runners into the tunnel, under the grandstand and out onto the course proper. Despite it being his first trip back to Randwick since his final race, Happy Clapper was well behaved and lapped up the attention.

Team Thoroughbred staff members Clare Edlund and Jeff Brasch lead Happy Clapper towards the track. Picture – Lisa Grimm.

While former Trainer Pat Webster would have loved to have been there for the occasion, he had to settle for watching it on television from Newcastle Racecourse. Now retired from the training ranks, he continues to work in the industry as Racing NSW’s Jockey Coach and Mentor, Drug And Alcohol Counsellor and Racing Mates Ambassador.

“That’s my thrill now,” Pat said. “Seeing the apprentice jockeys perform well, especially if they have had to overcome challenges to get there. I lost the drive to keep training after Happy Clapper retired. When he was in the stable it was like flying to work on a magic carpet. Once he was gone, it was like driving a b-double in peak hour.

“Happy Clapper took us on an incredible journey and he will always hold a special place in my heart. It filled me with pride to see him looking 10/10 as he led the Doncaster field out. I’m so glad the public can continue to appreciate him.”

These days Happy Clapper is enjoying a much slower paced life at Bart’s Farm, a stunning 137-acre facility on the banks of the Nepean River at Castlereagh, designed and formerly owned by the legendary Bart Cummings. He lives with close to 100 other Thoroughbreds, including his best friend, dual TAB Everest winner, Redzel. Every morning they are brought into the barn to have breakfast before a light workout either in the round yard or on the treadmill. They are then shampooed, dried and returned to their paddock to enjoy the sun. Team Thoroughbred NSW Stablehand, Clare Edlund, is their main carer and travels with them wherever they go.

“Once in a blue moon you find a horse that you just click with and they make a positive impact on your day every day,” Miss Edlund said.  “I’m extremely lucky I have two horses that do that for me. They are complete opposites but complement each other so well and are my yin and yang.”

Both Happy Clapper and Redzel fans can looking forward to seeing them at the races again during Spring, as well as at other community events.

Abbey Couldn’t Be Prouder Of Her Off-The-Track Trio

By Julieanne Horsman

There is a unique sense of satisfaction that comes from completing a tough task yourself, and 20- year-old equestrian Abbey Knapp knows the feeling well. The talented young rider retrained her first off-the-track Thoroughbred for showjumping at just 13, with Mum watching on from a distance of course.

“I had outgrown my first pony and needed something bigger to continue progressing,” Abbey said. “I had my heart set on retraining a horse myself and had been learning as much as I could from videos on YouTube. Mum has had horses her whole life so she was happy for me to give it a go.”

Abbey spotted an ad on facebook for a lightly raced 9-year-old mare named Dishy Lulu who had been poking around in a paddock for a few years and thought she was perfect.

Abbey, Mo Good and Dishy Lulu.

“She was so pretty and going to waste so I begged mum to get her,” Abbey said. “I couldn’t wait to get her home and start putting what I had learned into practice.”

Over the next few years, Abbey rode Dishy Lulu at every opportunity, the pair learning and improving together.  They spent most weekends at Loop Line Pony Club, gymkhanas and shows and brought home plenty of ribbons.

By early 2019 Abbey was ready for another Thoroughbred and again turned to the internet to find one. A then four-year-old gelding, Mo Good, who had trialled twice for Peter Robl and come last both times, caught her eye and she snapped him up for just $500.

“I bought him sight unseen, but I could tell from his video he enjoyed his work,” Abbey said. “When I went to pick him up, he started nibbling me and I had a good feeling we’d get along.”

Abbey gave Mo Good a few days off to settle in and get to know her other horses before she began lunging him to build muscle. She started riding him a fortnight later and desensitising him to environmental distractions.

“He was green and quite sensitive but always tried hard and improved with every ride,” Abbey said.

Abbey and Mo Good in action at Hawkesbury Summer Horse Show. Photo credit – Glenys Lilley.

Almost 12 months later, Abbey and Mo Good were ready for their first competition – Del Throsby Dressage and Showjumping Day at Bong Bong Racecourse. They did three dressage tests and finished first in both preliminary tests and second in novice. All their hard work had paid off.

“It was pouring with rain and I had never ever ridden Mo Good in the rain before, but I was so pleased with the way he handled himself,” Abbey said.

Next it was off to Wollondilly Pony Club Gymkhana where Abbey and Mo Good again picked up a swag of ribbons. This time it was hot, but Mo Good was again so good.

The Covid-19 outbreak suddenly halted competitions for a few months but Abbey made the most of the break and stepped up Mo Good’s education. When competitions resumed, there was no holding them back.

“He was a bit horse shy when I got him but at Pony Club when he did his first pair of hacks he looked to me for confidence and wasn’t scared anymore,” Abbey said. “It was a special moment and then I realised how far we had come. I trained this horse myself. I didn’t send him away or spend a lot of money. There’s still a bit of stigma around Thoroughbreds being hot, but I love proving people wrong and showing them how athletic and intelligent the breed is.”

As part of Racing NSW’s commitment to Thoroughbred horses in every stage of their lives, dedicated equine welfare veterinarians from Team Thoroughbred NSW conduct random checks on retired racehorses to make sure they are being well cared for. Dr Carly Garling was full of praise when she went to see Abbey.

“I had the pleasure of meeting Abbey and her beautiful horse Mo Good on a routine welfare check, as he is a recently retired racehorse,” Dr Garling said. “It was clear to me that the two of them were well suited to each other. Abbey was enjoying the process of re-educating him for life after racing and Mo Good had dapples and a shine to his coat, he was certainly loving the care and attention Abbey was giving him.”

Just last month Abbey added another Thoroughbred to her stable, an unraced former Gwenda Markwell gelding named Skyburner. She has begun preparing the 17.2hh gentle giant for eventing, and while he has plenty of potential, Abbey knows she has a lot of work ahead of her.

“I haven’t had him for long, but he hasn’t put a hoof wrong,” she said. “He is big so he is a bit unbalanced and her certainly eats a lot but he’s a nice mover and I think I can take him up the grades.”

Abbey also still has Dishy LuLu and her childhood pony.

“Having four horses is a lot of work, especially when you’re juggling a full-time job, a boyfriend and trying to be a normal 20-year-old but I wouldn’t change a thing. I know how lucky I am to have these horses in my life.”

OAR Propelling Retired Racehorses Into New Careers

By Julieanne Horsman

Leaning against the fence at the side of the course, a group of proud owners crane their necks towards their horse as she approaches the starting point.

“She looks fit, doesn’t she,” one says. “I hope she goes well,” says another.

This isn’t a racing syndicate, although the entire group is made up of racehorse owners. They’re part of the Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott initiative, Own After Racing.  OAR, for short, is the concept of talented equestrians Nelson Smyth and Jessica Bott who both grew up competing on Thoroughbreds. OAR members support retired racehorses in their retraining and get to go along and watch them compete in their new careers off the track.

Jessica and Nelson are passionate about providing quality training for retired racehorses.

“We wanted to create opportunities for racing fans to be involved with Thoroughbreds long after they have run their last race,” Jessica said. “It provides good outcomes for the horses and a fun and unique social event for the owners,” Nelson added.

Having already had a positive experience with Racing NSW’s equine welfare and rehoming division, Team Thoroughbred NSW, Jessica and Nelson again turned to the program to source their first retired racehorses for OAR. In 2018 Jessica adopted three retired racehorses from Team Thoroughbred NSW, including former Phillip Sweeney-trained mare Raise An Angel, who is now a competitive showjumper.

“I think it’s important to support the industry’s rehoming program wherever we can,” Jessica said.

The first two horses chosen were unraced grey mare Pexian and former Tracey Bartley galloper, Arrossire. Jessica and Nelson picked them from the herd at Bandanora, Racing NSW’s 2600acre equine welfare property at Capertee.

“We look for physically and mentally sound horses,” Nelson said. “It can be hard to pick from the paddock, but we know we get an honest assessment of each horse, including its veterinary history, when buying them from Team Thoroughbred NSW.”

Nelson and Arrossire soaring over a jump at Stonewall Equestrian. Credit – Diane Razenbacher.

OAR is operated out of a leased 60-acre property at Somersby on the Central Coast. All Thoroughbreds coming into the program are given time to settle in before beginning their training. Nelson’s sister Libby, another accomplished equestrian, helps with the riding, as do some of Gai and Adrian’s stable staff members. The horses are educated from square one, as you would a breaker. Rather than turning them over quickly, the focus is on providing solid training.

“We aim to produce quality horses for showjumping which will in turn improve the profile of the breed in that sport,” Jessica said. “You can get real value for money from Thoroughbreds, but you need to put the time and effort in to train them properly,” Nelson added. “A Thoroughbred doesn’t have to be a good racehorse to be a good sport horse either.”

As part of their re-education, the horses are taken out to competitions and shows. Stonewall Equestrian, owned and operated by Krissy and Heath Harris, is just up the road from OAR’s base and boasts state of the art facilities in beautiful surrounds.

“Stonewall is the type of place where you want to bring clients,” Jessica said. “Krissy’s competitions are always well run, and the atmosphere is relaxed and friendly. She gets owners involved in the presentation of rugs to winners. Some of the OAR owners ended up sponsoring Stonewall events because they had such a great time.”

The OAR horses seem to enjoy it as well. In their first 70cm showjumping class at Stonewall Equestrian, Arrossire came 3rd, Pexian 4th and jockey Rachael Murray, who was the first female to ride 100 winners in a season, came 5th on her off the track Thoroughbred, Mr Pumblechook.

Jessica and Raise An Angel in action at the Summer Showjumping Classic in Sydney. Credit – Olivia Doutreband.

“There are a lot of racing people who are also involved in equestrian disciplines, especially jockeys,” Jessica said. “Rachael, Kathy (O’Hara) and Jeff Penza are often out and about.”

Gai and Adrian are also very supportive of OAR and come out and watch the horses in action whenever they can.

“Adrian came to Stonewall one day and saw Chris Waller had his name on a jump so next thing Adrian is sponsoring a jump too,” Jessica said with a laugh.

The Thoroughbreds in OAR are eventually sold to loving new homes, with proceeds reinvested into the program to produce more horses. Pexian is now the pride and joy of a teenage showjumper, while the team is still putting the polish on Arrossire. Some new retired racehorses have recently been welcomed into the fold too including former Kristen Buchanan mare Oakfield Shawne, former Tracey Bartley mare Amelika and Keith Dryden’s one start wonder, Halo Diablo.

“All the horses we have are showing plenty of scope and talent,” Jessica said. “We are really excited about them. We’re excited about the whole program. OAR has been better received than I could have ever imagined, and I am so grateful to everyone who has supported our little idea.”

This story was originally published in the March issue of Racing NSW Magazine.

Happy Clapper On Show At Newcastle

By Julieanne Horsman

While Happy Clapper is famous for his impressive Group 1 victories at Royal Randwick, Newcastle was also a happy hunting ground for the people’s horse. He raced there twice for a win in the 2017 Group 3 Newmarket Handicap and a 3rd in the 2013 Group 3 Spring Stakes – his first stakes placing.

Over the weekend, the now ten-year-old gelding returned to the City Of Steel, not to race but as a celebrity guest at Newcastle Regional Show. It was his first public appearance since retiring from racing in April 2020 and there was no shortage of old and new fans lining up to snap a selfie and give him a pat.

Children were delighted to meet Happy Clapper at Newcastle Regional Show.

Despite the unfamiliar environment and sounds of a busy carnival, Happy Clapper was on his best behaviour and lapped up the attention. He looked every bit the $7.3million-winning champion the racing public had come to know and love.

Draped in a blue silk rug, Happy Clapper represented Racing NSW’s equine welfare and rehoming division, Team Thoroughbred NSW, which now cares for the legendary galloper. When time was called on Happy Clapper’s stellar racing career, trainer Pat Webster and owner Michael Thomas made the decision to retire him to Team Thoroughbred NSW’s Sydney facility, Bart’s Farm (formerly Princes Farm.) It’s one of four properties owned by Racing NSW for the purpose of caring for and retraining retired racehorses and those who didn’t make the track. Happy Clapper shares a paddock with fellow Group 1 winner and dual Everest winner, Redzel, while His Majesty and Stampede are just over the fence.

Happy Clapper with Team Thoroughbred NSW staff members, Jeff and Clare.

The appearance at Newcastle Regional Show marks the completion of Happy Clapper’s transition from racehorse to off the track Thoroughbred. Unlike most of the other retired racehorses at Team Thoroughbred NSW, Happy Clapper is not available for adoption. Instead, he will continue as an ambassador for life after racing.

Happy Clapper fans can look forward to seeing him in Sydney over the Autumn Carnival and at other community events in years to come.

Retired Racehorse Gives Kim Waugh A 5-Star Sunday

By Julieanne Horsman

As a racehorse trainer, Kim Waugh isn’t accustomed to having a Sunday off, so on the odd occasion she does find herself with some free time she likes to make the most of it. One of her favourite things to do is visit her retired racehorses in their new homes and over the weekend she enjoyed a special reunion.  

Rothesay gelding, Five Stars Partner won three races and notched two places in ten starts for Kim’s stable before being retired into Team Thoroughbred NSW’s care. He became a much-loved part of the inmate equine therapy program run in partnership with St Heliers Correctional Centre in Muswellbrook and eventually it was his turn to be offered for adoption.

Within days of being named as Team Thoroughbred NSW’s Horse Of The Week, Five Stars Partner had scored himself a five-star home with Murchessons Equine Wine & Dine in the Hunter Valley. In his new role, he safely carries riders, including beginners, on adventures through the vines.

Five Stars Partner saluting at Hawkesbury in 2016. Credit – Bradley Photos.

Kim Waugh had been following Five Stars Partner’s progress on Instagram when the perfect opportunity to visit him arose. Kim’s friend had bought tickets for a horseback wine tour in a charity auction and invited her and her husband Mark to come along. In an unbelievable stroke of luck, the tour operator happened to be Murchessons and as soon as Kim realised, she was on the phone to ask if she could be allocated Five Stars Partner as her mount.

Armed with a handbag full of carrots, Kim, Mark and their friends set off for Pokolbin and were delighted by what they found.

“The property is lovely, and the horses live in huge, green paddocks,” Kim said. “Five Stars Partner looks amazing and so happy. I had to ask what the horses were being fed they looked so good!”

The group spent the day ambling from winery to winery, hopping off for tastings and lunch. Despite having limited experience in the saddle, even Mark was able to enjoy the experience and made it back without any incidents.

Kim Waugh riding now retired racehorse Five Stars Partner on a tour.

“The horses are so well trained, they know how to look after their riders,” Kim said. “Five Stars Partner was beautiful to ride, although I expected that. He was always a lovely quiet horse. The stable staff would fight over who got to ride him because he was so chilled out. He’s even lazier now! We all had the best day.”

Kim is passionate about finding loving homes and meaningful new careers for all her Thoroughbreds once they retire from racing. She keeps in touch with the new owners and relishes every update.

“They all have a special place in your heart and Thoroughbreds are such a versatile breed,” Kim said. “You want to see them go on to succeed in something else. Hand From Above, Oxford Poet and Recife Beach have all qualified for the Royal this year so I am looking forward to that.

“Strangers can be so critical of trainers, but we really do care about our horses. Mine only go to good homes and if that changes for any reason they come straight back.”

Waxworks Gives Retired Policeman A New Perspective

By Julieanne Horsman

Ambling along the gumtree-lined streets of Kentlyn on the outskirts of south-western Sydney, Rob Plumb and his mare Waxworks have the sun on their faces and the wind at their backs. They haven’t a care in the world, but both are a world away from where they were just two years ago.

Waxworks was destined to be exported to Asia as a broodmare, but when the red tape became too much she was abandoned in a paddock at Yass with dozens of other horses. Rob was in the grips of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after almost three decades of service in the Police Force.

“When I think of how differently things could have turned out for both of us, I shudder,” Rob said.

Rob enjoys riding his retired racehorse, Waxworks, around the streets of Kentlyn.

Rob joined the Police Force in 1990 and completed his training at the academy in Goulburn before being posted to Revesby. Over the next 28 years, he rose to the rank of Incremental Sergeant and was awarded citations for bravery, diligence and supporting victims of crime. To his colleagues and friends, Rob appeared to be a model officer, but despite his own denials, the service he was so proud to be a part of was slowly squeezing the life out of him.  

Rob’s career in blue ended in a lather of sweat and flood of tears on the linoleum floor of Cabramatta Police Station in February 2018. There was no farewell party, no speeches of praise or pats on the back. Rob couldn’t deny his PTSD any longer and had no choice but to walk away from the force.

“That was it, I just couldn’t go on,” Rob said. “Devastated doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt losing the only career I had ever known.”

Rob began counselling but it wasn’t enough, and he quickly slipped into a dark and dangerous place. He suffered insomnia, and on the rare occasions he did manage to sleep, he would be woken by night terrors. He endured flashbacks, panic attacks and would avoid going to any public or crowded areas which could trigger him.

“There are some things you never forget, no matter how desperate you are to block them out,” Rob said. “The screams, the smells, the shattered loved ones, the brain matter splattered up the walls.”

In early 2019 Police Legacy recommended Rob for the Spur equine therapy program run jointly by Racing NSW and RSL LifeCare. He had no prior experience with horses but was willing to give anything a shot to help him feel human again. He was accepted into the program where veterans learned horse care, retraining and riding on retired racehorses as part of their treatment. Rob was paired with a then six-year-old mare named Waxworks.

“I felt an instant connection to her which strengthened over time,” Rob said. “She is such an intelligent horse and quick to learn. Just being with her helped me feel calm.”

Waxworks has helped Rob enjoy life again.

Rob and nine other veterans from both emergency services and defence backgrounds spent eight months working with their retired racehorses in preparation for the graduation trail ride through Kosciuszko National Park. Officially the course ran on Thursdays and Sundays, but most participants weren’t well enough to have full-time jobs so they spent extra days volunteering their time to care for the horses. They did months of groundwork before they were even allowed to mount their horses, but once they did, there was no holding them back.

“It was like bungee jumping,” Rob said. “The adrenaline was pumping, I felt the nerves but it was such a rush.”

Spur gave Rob the routine he was missing since leaving the Police force but more importantly, it gave him something to look forward to. Some days he struggled to pay for petrol to get there, but he would always find a way.

“The program helped me change my line of thinking and realise life is worth living,” Rob said. “You can still get enjoyment from your life even after a major setback. It was great to spend time with other veterans going through the same thing as me, albeit at different stages, and the horses were the oil that helped us work together.”

The Spur course culminated with a five-day trail ride through Kosciuszko National Park. It was the ultimate test for the veterans and their Thoroughbreds they had retrained. They wound their way through the Snowy Mountains, splashing through streams, spotting wild brumbies and stopping off to explore the alpine huts along the away.

“It was more than I could have ever imagined and the perfect way to finish the course,” Rob said. “The iconic scenery, the extended riding sessions and the challenge of getting Waxy to do some things she was never bred to were highlights.”

Once the Spur course was completed, the veterans were given the opportunity to adopt their horses. Three did immediately and Rob wanted to too, but living in suburban Campbelltown and without funds to pay for agistment he had to get creative. Rob spent months trying to find an appropriate place to keep Waxworks and finally, thanks to the kindness of a local, he was able to lease a lush green paddock in Kentlyn for free. It’s just a short walk from his home with kilometres of bush trails close by.

A trail ride through Kosciuszko National Park was the ultimate test for Rob and Waxworks.

“When she stepped off the float I was overcome with emotion and the tears began to flow,” Rob said. “I hadn’t seen her for a few months, but nothing had changed. She came up and nuzzled me and she was officially mine. I couldn’t believe it was really happening.

“Keeping Waxy happy and healthy is my priority now and I relish the time I get to spend with her,” Rob said. “I get a spring in my step just walking to her paddock. The team at Racing NSW has been great with advice and support. It’s nice to know I can contact the vets if I have any worries.”

Over the past few months, Rob and Waxworks have become a familiar sight around Kentlyn and many locals and visitors to the area stop to talk to them and give Waxworks a pat.

“People ask her name and how I got her, and they are pleased to hear our story, Rob said. “They get caught up in the joy of it and that makes my day.”

Cheeky Cisco Soars Off The Track

Cismontane was the sort of racehorse anyone would love to have in their stable. When he went to the gates he finished in the top three more than fifty per cent of the time and amassed closed to half a million dollars in prizemoney, but when his form started to taper off towards the end of 2018 co-trainers Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott decided to retire him into the care of Racing NSW’s equine welfare division, Team Thoroughbred NSW.

“We care about our horses and want the best for them,” Gai said. “Team Thoroughbred’s program provides pathways into meaningful careers after racing and I think it’s wonderful.”

Being Sydney-based, Cismontane was sent to Bart’s Farm – Racing NSW’s picturesque 137acre equine welfare facility on the banks of the Hawkesbury River at Castlereagh. Previously known as Princes Farm, it was renamed to honour its designer and former owner, the legendary Bart Cummings.

Athletic and brave over jumps, retired racehorse Cismontane is Kim Mitchell’s ideal eventing mount. Credit – Melissa Goodson – Snap Shot Australia

Cismontane excelled in his retraining and showed plenty of natural ability over jumps. The higher they got, the harder he tried. Within six months the chunky bright bay had dozens of interested riders lining up to adopt him. He went home with a professional eventer but despite being a match on paper they never clicked and Cismontane eventually returned to Bart’s Farm.

Meanwhile, passionate horsewoman but relatively new eventer, Kim Mitchell had begun the search for her first Thoroughbred. She had always been drawn to horses and volunteered at a riding school and trotting stable during her high school years. After graduation, she moved out of home to take up her dream job managing a property at Windsor. She broke in Thoroughbreds, assisted in buying, training and selling horses and was also a groom for competitions until one day about three years ago she decided it was her turn.  “I had a rescued Clydie-cross and when I took him to SIEC for our second ever event I couldn’t believe it when we won,” Kim said. “Eventing was our sport from that day.”

As Kim’s eventing experience grew, so too did her need for a horse which she could progress through the grades with and enjoy at the same time. On the advice of Racing NSW’s Equine Welfare Veterinarian Dr Carly Garling, Kim made an appointment to inspect some of the Thoroughbreds for sale at Bart’s Farm. It was not love at first sight with Cismontane though.

“I honestly wasn’t interested in him to start with,” Kim said. “He was smaller than what I wanted and he was being pretty naughty when the staff at Bart’s Farm were showing him to me. I didn’t even want to get on him, but I was egged on by a close friend who had come with me for the inspection.  I decided I may as well ride him and I’m glad I did! He had an awesome canter and I immediately knew there was something I liked about him.  I came back later in the week to ride him again and after a few jumps I was convinced he was the horse for me.”

Cismontane galloping to the lead early in the 2018 Group 1 Sydney Cup at Royal Randwick. Credit – Bradley Photos

Kim picked Cismontane up on a Monday, went away on a work trip from Tuesday to Friday, rode him on Saturday and took him to Camden Hunter Trials on Sunday. The rain was pouring down, but his performance blew away any doubts Kim had about her new mount.

“He was absolutely fantastic,” she said. “He just got on with the job. He wasn’t spooky or distracted. I really threw him in the deep end and he took everything in his stride.”

From then, Kim focused on building Cismontane’s confidence and helping him transition from a racehorse to an eventing horse. She nicknamed him Cisco and they had several low-key outings together for experience before taking on EVA60 at Berrima Horse Trials.

“I had already learned a lot about him from previous events,” Kim said. “Cisco doesn’t need a big warm-up, he gets a spark and likes to go forward. At Berrima he was fantastic in dressage, we jumped clear in both showjumping and cross country. You can’t ask for more than that.”

Kim and Cismontane finished the day in second place overall, an outstanding result for only their second one-day event.

“I was so proud of him,” Kim said. “I know he can get a bit spooky at the fences, but he just trusted me and went for it.”

Kim has high hopes for Cismontane over the next 12 months. She aims to have him competing at 80cm and schooling 95cm. 
“He is constantly impressing me but it’s still early days for him,” Kim said. “He has a lot of talent and I think he will go far. At Berrima, I could already feel he wanted to jump higher. I’m going to work on his jumping confidence and further establish his dressage, but over all I really just want to keep him happy. There’s so