Tilly & Cosmo Shoot For The Stars

By Julieanne Horsman

At just 21 years of age, Matilda “Tilly” McCarroll has an equestrian CV that would turn someone twice her age green with envy. She has represented her state in eventing, was named NSW Young Eventer of the Year in 2019, helps manage Phisher Park Equestrian with her mother, trains horses for clients and rides trackwork for Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott. But her greatest achievement of all so far has four legs, a long tail and can clear jumps the size of a small car.

Tilly was thrown on a horse’s back before she could walk. Her mother, Sheridan, was a hunt rider in her native England and bought Tilly a miniature pony when she was a baby. She did all the usual things a young equestrian would do and had taken up eventing by 11, the youngest age permitted to participate in the sport. She competed on a Paint Horse named Jimmy before moving onto a Thoroughbred x Warmblood named Tom, picking up loads of ribbons along the way, but as she got older her desire to have a go at retraining an off the track Thoroughbred grew.  As fate would have it, opportunity came knocking and Tilly was ready.

Tilly and former Chris Waller-trained Gelding Cosmic Cube, making light work of a table top jump. Credit – Elizabeth Borowick

Renowned equestrian Martha Brister and her talented son Charlie had recently acquired Cosmic Cube, an off the track Thoroughbred previously trained by Chris Waller. The then six-year-old gelding had enjoyed success on the track, highlighted by his win in the Listed National Sprint. Martha and Charlie enjoyed riding him and were impressed by his scope when free jumping, but with Charlie heading overseas, they had to find a new home for him.

“Cosmo was athletic and had a nice big stride, making him well-suited to eventing,” Charlie said. “Tilly was an ambitious young rider who I knew would put in the hard yards to get the best out of him. The first phone call I made was to her and the horse was gone.”

Aged 15 at the time, Tilly was a boarder at New England Girls School in Armidale which is known for its outstanding equestrian program and facilities. She was able to stable Cosmic Cube with her at the school which afforded her the time to work with him daily.

“Being able to finish my schoolwork then go straight out and ride made the process a lot easier,” Tilly said. “Having an onsite coach was a real benefit too. Cosmo was a lot of horse to start with though. I think I fell off twice a week in the beginning, but he taught me how to “stick” and I started jumping within a month.”

It wasn’t long before Tilly’s hard work began to pay off. She took Cosmic Cube to a local show where they entered the combined training class, but it didn’t quite go to plan.

“Cosmo went around the showjumping course beautifully, but he bucked in the dressage and we scored 43%,” Tilly said with a laugh. “We went to another show in Tamworth a few months later and that was much better.”

As the months passed, ribbons began to accumulate as Tilly and Cosmic Cube worked their way up the grades. By 2019 Tilly had been named the NSW Junior Eventer of the Year and Cosmic Cube was in the top five on the Junior Eventing Leader Board for the state. In 2020 they won the 1.10m Thoroughbred class at Waratah Showjumping at Sydney International Equestrian Centre. By 2021 they were competing at 3* level.

“Producing a horse from 60cm to 3* is very satisfying,” Tilly said. “It certainly wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. Even training Cosmo to do the dressage movements and master the technicality and height of the jumping was rewarding. At one stage I was considering selling him but he’s too good to let go!”

Tilly has discovered another talent in riding track work for Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott. Credit – Ashlea Brennan

In September last year, Tilly welcomed a new Thoroughbred into her stable – All Too Royal, a seven-year-old All Too Hard gelding previously trained by Ciaron Maher and David Eustace.

“I went up to Vinery Stud for a test ride and he was absolutely wonderful,” Tilly said. “He was stunning to look at, he had a great brain and understood the questions I was asking him. He hadn’t been touched in two months, but I was able to get straight on and ride him with other horses running around in the next paddock and he didn’t bat an eyelid.”

She has begun producing “Roy” as an eventer and plans to compete him up to 1* before selling him to an appropriate home.

“He went to Tamworth Horse Trials recently and placed 5th in the 60cm class,” Tilly said. “I bumped him up to 80cm at Qurindi and we came 4th. You feel a great sense of accomplishment when you get a horse going so lovely. I’m proud of Roy and myself.

“Thoroughbreds really are so versatile and can do anything. They have been exposed to a lot in their racing career – crowds, photographers, noise, travelling, waiting. It sets them up well for life after racing and to see them succeeding in a new career makes me so happy.”

Tilly juggles her own horses with riding track work for Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott at Randwick. It was something she wanted to do for a long time and when a friend mentioned there was an opening, she applied and was soon setting her alarm for 3am.

“I will never forget my first day,” Tilly said. “It was dark, cold and I certainly wasn’t accustomed to getting up that early!”

She gallops several horses and if they need it, gives them some dressage-style flat work. She also jumps some of them to mix up their training.

“One of the best things about working in the racing industry is riding the horses and then seeing them go on to be successful. I rode Never Been Kissed in work and she went on to win a Group 1. Track riding has helped my fitness and my rider strength as well. Waking up knowing I am getting stronger every day is good motivation.”

Tilly also has her sights set on competing in Equimillion, the new $1million equestrian series recently announced by Racing NSW.

“I’m looking forward to hearing more about that and getting involved!”

Zulu’s Grand Life On & Off The Track

By Julieanne Horsman

Maddie Plant was working at Foxground Training Stables and Stud while on a gap year after high school in 2013 when she was tasked with unloading a horse from a truck that had just pulled in. She looked up at the calm bay gelding as she was leading him down the ramp and immediately liked him.

“What do you think,” stable owner Simon Kale asked with a smile. “He’s cute,” Maddie replied. “Guess what, he’s all yours,” Simon said, catching Maddie by surprise.

Maddie’s parents had organised for Simon and his wife Olwyn to source a new horse for their daughter as a graduation present. Maddie was delighted and jumped on for a ride later that day.

“He was so easy going and showed potential straight away,” Maddie said. “I didn’t know anything about his racing history, but I googled him and found his Wikipedia page, so I knew he was pretty special.”

Maddie and Grand Zulu after a successful day at Wallaby Hill.

Maddie worked hard to establish the basics, initially focusing on dressage training to improve Grand Zulu’s flexibility and response to new aides which would also assist his jumping and turning.

“He was a very quick learner and picked everything up easily,” she said. “Being on a gap year and able to ride daily made the world of difference. His jumps became so clean and sharp.”

Less than two years later, Maddie and Grand Zulu were named Horse And Rider at the ACT Cup. In the same year, they finished 3rd at the Australian Showjumping Championships. They also competed up to 1* in cross country.  

In early 2018 Grand Zulu sustained a knee injury so Maddie gave him 18 months off to heal. Once fully recovered, she brought him back into work but by that stage Grand Zulu was 19 and Maddie was juggling full time study to become a veterinarian with part-time employment as a swabber for Racing NSW so she made the tough decision to slow him down.

Around the same time, another one of Simon Kale’s talented young riding students, then 12-year-old William Hodgekiss, was looking for a new mount to replace his first Thoroughbred, Verity’s Boy. He had a riding lesson with Grand Zulu and the pair clicked straight away, prompting Maddie to agree to lease the horse to William.

It wasn’t long before they had their first outing to a training day at Wallaby Hill. William and Grand Zulu went clear in the 90cm class, stunning Mum Alyson.

“We were all starstruck,” she said. “They cleared the jumps with such ease. I was so proud of them.”

William’s confidence increased with every ride and in late 2020 he was crowned Champion Primary Show Jumper, Champion Overall Year 6 Rider, and Supreme Champion Primary School Rider at Berry Interschool Equestrian Championship.

“I couldn’t have wished for a better horse, and I am so thankful to Maddie for entrusting me with Grand Zulu,” William, now 14, said.

Pic 2 – William and Grand Zulu winning the Thoroughbred Sport Horse Association class at the Chatham Park Summer Showjumping Classic. Credit – Oz Shots

Maddie is equally pleased to see Grand Zulu continuing to excel. “He was the horse that took my riding to the next level and to see him doing the same thing for William fills me with joy. I was worried he wouldn’t compete again after he injured his knee, but he has bounced back perfectly. Since he’s at Foxground I still get to see him so it’s the ideal arrangement.”

William and Grand Zulu have their sights firmly set on Interschools in Sydney this September and are working towards being selected for the NSW team.

“Making the NSW team would be a dream come true,” William said. “I would like us to compete in more events and bigger events. It’s exciting travelling up to Sydney and riding on the best courses.”

Despite running in his final race more than 13 years ago, Grand Zulu still gets recognised wherever he goes.

“Every time we go to an event there is always someone who will come up to us and say they worked with him or remember him from his racing days,” William said.

“I often bump into his former trainer Gwenda Markwell when I am working at the races and she always asks how Zulu is,” Maddie said.

When the time eventually comes for Grand Zulu to retire from competitions, he will always have a forever home between William and his family at Coolangatta NSW and Maddie at Foxground Training Stables and Stud.

School Principal’s Thrill In New Skill

By Julieanne Horsman

Thrill Ofthe Skill was bred for a life on the racetrack. Instead, the now seven-year-old mare is showing her versatility off it. Since being adopted by lifelong equestrian Diane Hickey, Thrill Ofthe Skill has become an important part of the 7th Light Horse Gundagai Troop and this month completed her greatest challenge so far.

Over the course of eight days, Thrill Ofthe Skill and Diane meandered their way from Narrandera to Wagga as part of the Riverina and Southwest Slopes Light Horse Association’s Memorial Trek to commemorate 130years since the Emu plume was first added to the slouch hat. The trek was meant to be held in 2021 but Covid restrictions forced it to be rescheduled.

Diane and retired racehorse Thrill Ofthe Skill.

“As soon as I saw it advertised, I knew we had to be part of it,” Diane, the Principal of Binda Public School, said. “I roped my husband into coming along with his horse and decked them out in all the gear.”

Dressed in replicas of traditional World War I uniforms, the group of 14 riders and horses as well as a support crew covered 130km of ground, stopping off at small communities along the way. After a service at Narrandera where the troopers presented a slouch hat to the local RSL, they set out for Grong Grong 18kms away. The next day it was on to Matong where they visited the local public school to the delight of the young students.

“Seeing the kids’ faces light up gave me such a buzz,” Diane said. “They were asking questions about the uniforms and the horses. It’s a great way for them to learn about the history of the Light Horse.”

Each night the troop would build yards to contain their horses while they slept in swags or floats next to them. They would be up before the sun each morning to continue their journey, calling in to Ganmain, Coolamon, Marrar and Downside before finishing at North Wagga Pony Club.

“Due to covid restrictions we weren’t allowed into any aged care facilities, but we did a “ride by” and formed a troop line outside Allawah Lodge at Coolamon and the residents came out onto the verandah and gave us a salute,” Diane said. 

The group also collected donations along the way to help fund the construction of a bronze statue in Wagga’s Victory Memorial Gardens as a permanent tribute to those who have served with Light Horse troops. The design will feature a Light Horseman and his mount rescuing another soldier and while some grants had already been secured for the project, the money raised by the trek went towards covering the shortfall.

Trek participants held a service a Coolamon in honour of Light Horsemen of the past.

Once the ride was complete there was no time to rest, with attention turning to preparations and rehearsals for ANZAC Day. Diane and Thrill Of the Skill performed with the 7th Light Horse Gundagai Troop at Wagga’s ANZAC Day Eve race day and again on ANZAC Day at services in Gundagai, Tumblong and Jugiong. Most of the horses in the troop are also off the track Thoroughbreds including Zarlu, Badraan, Aussie James, Hovell Street, Urbane Valour and Bang Bang.

“Thoroughbreds are highly intelligent and trainable,” Diane said. “I’m very proud of what Thrill OftheSkill has achieved and how far she has come during her time with me.

“Being part of the 7th Light Horse Gundagai Troop gives you a chance to do something wonderful with your horse, regardless of age. Our youngest member is 9 and the oldest is 74. I’d encourage anyone who wants to get involved to get in touch via our facebook page.”

Diane has long been passionate about the Thoroughbred breed with her family involved in racing. Her previous mount, Mistress Jaye, was bred by Gerry Harvey, part-owned by her brother-in-law and trained by Kris Lees then Bernie Kelly. They competed in dressage and showing together, rode part of the Bicentennial Trail and Diane’s daughter even took her to Pony Club State Show Riding where they picked up a blue ribbon. Mistress Jaye has recently been retired from competitions due to her age but still lives with Diane at her home near Gunning.

Diane adopted Thrill Of the Skill, now known as “Hillary,” directly from Albury trainer Rob Wellington after being drawn to her kind eye and laidback temperament. She immediately began schooling her as a dressage mount under the guidance of coach Helena Warren, before progressing into Light Horse training about 12 months ago.

“The horse is a testament to her trainer,” Diane said. “She’s a pleasure to handle and do anything with. My husband has two other ex-racing mares from the stable. We just love them!”

Children Lining Up For Equine Assisted Learning

By Julieanne Horsman

Withdrawn, anxious and barely able to make eye contact. When 17-year-old Max walked into the paddock at Bringing Smiles to Life, he was a troubled young man. After traditional methods failed, Max’s mother put her faith in Heather Cambridge’s new equine-assisted learning program in a desperate attempt to get her precious son back on track.

Fast forward just three months and Max is a different person. He’s confident, happy, and always the one who offers to stay back and pack up the float, clean tack or help in general. He aspires to become a jackaroo and owes his transformation to the healing powers of horses, in particular a six-year-old retired racehorse named Line Up Girls who is affectionately known as Frankie.

Each session is designed to assist participants by offering them tools to better manage their mental health. This includes breathwork, learning to regulate emotions, progressive muscle relaxation and anxiety de-escalation.

Retired racehorse Line Up Girls is helping Max become more confident and resilient.

“One thing we do every time is talk about boundaries and communication,” Heather said. “We look at the horse’s ears for signals, maintain a safe distance from the rear end, take note of body language and signs that indicate the horse’s mood. Some of the children who come along are in out of home care and they are angry, but they must learn to be calm around the horses. We also do a lot of grooming and hoof care to strengthen that bond with the horses as well as leading exercises, cavaletti and obstacle courses. We set goals with the horses and sometimes there is resistance to requested tasks but that provides an opportunity to talk, troubleshoot, find resilience, take another approach, and grow in leadership. When the horses do what they are asked, the clients are so proud of themselves. It’s wonderful to see.”

Heather was inspired to start her equine-assisted learning program after suffering the tragic loss of her husband four years ago. Her horse, a Standardbred named Fred, was a shining light during one of the darkest times in her life and she wanted others to have access to that same healing power.

“He just rescued me,” she said. “He stopped me from diving into a big, black hole and helped me pick myself up and move forward. I love working with horses and wanted to create a special resource for the local community, so I decided to study as an Equine Interaction Experience Practitioner and give it my best shot.”

Heather, who has a diploma in counselling and mental health, launched Bringing Smiles to Life at Wingham with just Fred, but soon decided he needed a friend. Despite initial reservations about taking on an off the track Thoroughbred, Heather had stumbled across Team Thoroughbred NSW on social media and reached out.

Heather on the day she adopted Line Up Girls from Team Thoroughbred NSW’s equine welfare and rehoming property at Oxley Island.

“I was really interested in the work of Team Thoroughbred and wanted to give a retired racehorse a quality home,” she said. “I went out to the farm at Oxley Island and had a look at some horses. There was one I liked but the Farm Manager Bernie and Rehoming Coordinator LaToyah said there was another one better suited to what I planned to do. I trusted their judgement, had a ride, and ended up taking Line Up Girls home. He was perfect from the day he arrived. He got on well with Fred and was very patient and relaxed.”

Heather renamed the six-year-old former Gary Moore then Jenny Graham-trained gelding “Frankie” and began handling and groundwork with him. She made sure he was safe with some obedience and flexion exercises before he was introduced to her clients. Frankie’s first chance to shine was with Max and the two hit it off straight away.

“Max originally worked with Fred and when he switched to Frankie he really had to step up because of his size,” Heather said. “Max took it all in his stride and I started observing some really tender moments between the two like Frankie smelling Max, turning into him, following him around.”

So far there has been plenty of interest from the community in Bringing Smiles to Life and most of the participants are under the age of 18. Many have tried traditional therapies like counselling and psychology but Heather’s program, which operates under the motto of slow, calm, and gentle, has a unique effect.

“I listen and ask questions and they can bring up anything they want to without any judgement,” Heather said. “I try and get them to recognise what they can learn from each situation. Understanding the value of verbal and non-verbal communication is important for these kids.”

Heather balances her time at Bringing Smiles to Life with her role as an Occupational Therapy Assistant at Manning Base Hospital’s Mental Health Unit. She is hoping as her equine-assisted learning program grows in popularity, she will be able to devote more time to it.  She is also desperate to find a more permanent base in the Taree/Wingham area either with undercover facilities or space for her to erect her own shelter so the program can run in all weather.

“I just want to build the business and help more children,” Heather said. “I genuinely believe that’s what I am on this earth to do.”

For more information search Bringing Smiles to Life on facebook.

Byzantium’s Double Life

By Julieanne Horsman

On Boxing Day, Byzantium galloped to a two-and-a-half length victory at Wellington Racecourse for Central Districts Trainer, Bob Howe. On 14th January he returned to Wellington Racecourse and won again. In between, the seven-year-old All Too Hard x Roman Treasure gelding was trotting gracefully around the show ring at the Thoroughbred Spring Fair under the guidance of Bob’s teenage daughter, Brooke.

They picked up a swag of ribbons in a variety of showing classes before taking their place in the main event – the Off The Track NSW/ACT Final. After qualifying at Mendooran Show, Byzantium and Brooke joined a classy lineup of competitors who had to walk, trot, canter, hand gallop and stand for judges, renowned dressage coach Mark Kiddle and jockey Alysha Collett.

“The hand gallop was definitely my favourite part, and I could tell Baz enjoyed it too,” Brooke said.

Brooke was over the moon when she and Byzantium were asked to step forward with the top five and overwhelmed when they were sashed as the runners up.

18-year-old equestrian Brooke Howe is enjoying plenty of success on active racehorse Byzantium, who is trained by her father Bob. Credit – Daryl Duckworth Photography

“I was really happy with the way he worked but it was a very strong line-up, so it was a shock,” she said. “I love the whole concept of the Thoroughbred Spring Fair. It’s great to see so many horses off the track and to have a place to promote life after racing. Thoroughbreds are underrated.”

As always, Dad Bob was on hand to help and naturally bursting with pride.

“It was great to see all her hard work and dedication rewarded,” he said. “She puts so much time and effort into this horse. It doesn’t just happen. The result is a real feather in her cap.”

The talented young equestrian has been riding Byzantium since the end of 2019 when she unexpectedly lost her previous horse, Ruby Hill, an off the track Thoroughbred also trained by her father. She had qualified the then 12-year-old gelding for the Off The Track NSW/ACT Final a couple of weeks earlier before that dream was cruelly snatched from her.

“She was obviously shattered so, with the support of Byzantium’s co-owners Eddy Norris, Chris Howe, Graham Clarke and Ross Murray, I suggested she give him a try,” Bob Howe said. “He had been very calm and trustworthy since he came into the stable and I thought he would make a good hack.”

Like all of Bob’s horses, Byzantium is trained out of the paddock at the family property at Rylstone in the NSW Central Tablelands. Brooke jumped on in the paddock and was impressed by how well behaved he was.

“He was really nice to ride, and I thought I can definitely work with this,” she said.

It wasn’t long before Brooke was taking Byzantium out to Mudgee Dressage Club and Rylstone Pony Club. They competed at Interschools in Tamworth as well as other events across the state. In between school and working for her Dad, Brooke would take Byzantium on trail rides through the bush or swimming in the river. She also sought lessons from equestrian coach Kirsty Nassis to refine her skills in the saddle.

Byzantium (Anthony Cavallo) notched the seventh win of his career at Wellington Racecourse on 26th December 2021. Credit – Janian McMillian

Brooke and Bob have no problem balancing Byzantium’s racing preparation with his equestrian schooling, in fact, his performance on the track improved with the extra training off it. Since Brooke started riding Byzantium, he has notched six race wins and five seconds.

“I think the equestrian disciplines help with his headspace and a happy horse is more likely to be a successful one,” Bob Howe said.

Bob has now enlisted Brooke’s assistance to ride some of his other racehorses in the hope it will help them in the same way it helped Byzantium. Now that she has graduated from high school, Brooke works for her Dad and plans to pursue a career in the racing industry. She loves caring for horses and taking them to the races, especially Byzantium who she often straps at the races. Regular jockey Anthony Cavallo, who has piloted Byzantium to all but one of his eight wins, takes an active interest in Byzantium’s adventures off the track.

There are no plans to retire Byzantium, but when the time eventually comes, he has already been promised to Brooke. For now, she has her sights set on this year’s Thoroughbred Spring Fair and hopes to go one better in the Off The Track Final.

“We’re going to come back and try and win it,” she said. “He’s got a lot more to offer.”

Another Notch In Elsa’s Belt

By Julieanne Horsman

A cross country course with deep ditches, water obstacles and 1.05m fences, 1.10m showjumping course and a complicated dressage test with scores of exercises to memorise. Preparing for a new horse’s maiden attempt at a 1* eventing program would have even the most experienced equestrian’s stomach in knots. But not Elsa Vigneau-Ribal. She has every faith in her off the track Thoroughbred Kuiper Belt.

“I knew if we ran into any trouble, he would be fine,” Elsa said. “I’ve never had a horse who is so safe on his feet.”

Despite the driving rain and soggy ground, Elsa and Kuiper Belt blitzed their first 1* event at Quirindi without so much as a slip. It’s another achievement on a long list of goals the pair has accomplished since Elsa adopted the Dansili (GB) x Lindelaan (USA) gelding from Team Thoroughbred NSW two years ago.

Elsa and Kuiper Belt have formed an impressive eventing partnership. Credit – Melissa Goodson – Snapshotaustralia

Elsa was looking for a new eventing horse to replace Judge Smails, an off the track Thoroughbred previously trained at Dubbo by Gary Lunn. She had educated him from scratch and worked up the grades to 1* but he had started to slow down due to his age. Elsa completed a questionnaire and was given a list of horses that met her criteria. Among them was former John Thompson-trained galloper Kuiper Belt, and from the moment Elsa laid eyes on him in a video she liked him. She booked in to visit him and several other horses at Bart’s Farm, Racing NSW’s Sydney equine welfare and rehoming property, but after just ten minutes of riding she knew she knew Kuiper Belt was the one.

“He was very well balanced,” she said. “There weren’t any proper jumps on hand, so we rolled two big blue barrels onto their side, and he flew straight over them. He didn’t hesitate, he wasn’t scared, I was really impressed. “

Elsa picked Kuiper Belt up on a Saturday and took him home to her property at Somersby on the Central Coast. Less than 24 hours later they were at their first cross country clinic at Christine Bates Equestrian. She trotted him around, guided him through the water and popped him over some small jumps. Kuiper Belt took it all in his stride. The following week, they went to Central Coast Showjumping Club where he was an angel from the warm-up to the trip home.

“He was amazing,” Elsa said. “He wasn’t fazed by the other horses and was so cool for a horse in a new environment. He is the same horse wherever he goes.”

Kuiper Belt notched the second and final win of his career at Hawkesbury on 21st June 2018 – Credit Bradley Photos.

Retraining off the track Thoroughbreds has been a passion project for Elsa since arriving in Australia from France twelve years ago. Her method is always the same – ride them five times per week including one outing, and once they are confidently jumping 60cm, take them to their first competition. Kuiper Belt was ready for his first competition after just a month with Elsa and in EVA60 at Tamworth, they came 2nd.

“He is one of the most trainable horses I have ever owned,” Elsa said. “I love starting a horse as a blank canvas and taking them as far as I can. It’s very satisfying. In eventing especially, you are creating a horse as a whole.”

Despite her extensive experience, Elsa still gets weekly lessons with renowned equestrians Andrew Barnett, James Mooney and Peter Shaw to continue fine-tuning her skills. She already has her sights set on competing at 2* level with Kuiper Belt and hopes to reach that goal in this year.

“If we make it to 2* then I will aim for 3*. I’m sure Kuiper Belt will handle it, but I will need some extra training with my coaches,” Elsa said with a laugh.

Elsa also has a couple of new recruits in training – The Pilbarafox, a six-year-old gelding who came through Team Thoroughbred’s rehoming program and Double Magnum, who was suspended at his last race start for finishing 50 lengths last. She has high hopes for them both.

“My partner Joel (Funnell – a 4* eventer) is riding The Pilbarafox,” she said. “He moves beautifully and has a lovely jump. I think I might have lost him! Double Magnum is showing a lot of potential as an eventer. I’m going to have three very good horses in my backyard soon!”

Most of Elsa’s friends also compete on Thoroughbreds and she is fortunate to have several connections to the racing industry.

“Thoroughbreds make such great sporthorses and for cross country that’s what you want,” she said. “They are so athletic and reactive over jumps. All the best horses I have ridden cross country are Thoroughbreds. My partner’s parents breed racehorses and my best friend Rachel Hunt is a former jockey and they are always on the look out for potential new sporthorses for me.”

The Rumour Too Good To Keep Secret

By Julieanne Horsman

As Nature Strip was blasting across the line to claim victory in The TAB Everest, cheers were erupting from the loungeroom of the Chapman home in the Hunter Region. They’re not connections of Nature Strip and they’re not punters either. They were simply thrilled for Chris Waller who also trained The Rumour File, the now-retired racehorse who has become a much-loved part of their family.

“I couldn’t believe it when he won,” seven-year-old Tahlia said. “It was so cool.”

Talia and The Rumour File have formed a special bond.

Tahlia has been riding since she was just four years old, and in July Mum Jodie made her dreams come true by buying her a horse of her own. Jodie wanted a horse big enough so she could ride too and turned to equestrian groups on facebook in her search for the perfect match.

“I put up a post saying I was looking for a riding horse that was quiet, gentle and liked cuddles and Emma from Belltrees replied saying she thought she had a horse at work that would be suitable,” Jodie said. “She put me in contact with LaToyah from Team Thoroughbred to start the process of adopting a horse by getting me to complete a questionnaire so she could find suitable matches.”

Belltrees, which is owned and operated by former Australian representative polo players Anto and Alec White, works in partnership with Team Thoroughbred NSW, Racing NSW’s equine welfare and rehoming division, to care for and retrain retired racehorse and those who didn’t make the track. The Rumour File retired into Team Thoroughbred NSW’s care in 2019 with a record of five wins, six places and earnings of almost a quarter of a million dollars. He was given a long spell and some retraining at another one of Racing NSW’s farms before being sent to Belltrees for some more intense training.

The Rumour File saluting at Rosehill Gardens in 2016. Credit – Bradley Photos.

“When we got to Belltrees there were several horses which had been handpicked for us to try,” Jodie said. “Tahlia rode The Rumour File and we knew straight away he was the one for us. He was so calm and friendly, not too big and a good age at 11.”

Tahlia rides The Rumour File whenever she gets the chance and also has regular lessons. She enjoys caring for, grooming and leading him and hopes to one day take him to Pony Club.

“I love trotting on him and when I am upset he knows and gives me cuddles,” Tahlia said. “He is my best friend.”

“He takes such good care of Tahlia,” Jodie said. “He so gentle and careful and I trust him with her life. We can’t imagine a world without him now!”

A New Event Beckons McCreery

By Julieanne Horsman

It was a phone call to wish her ten-year-old cousin a happy birthday that set Jen Lynch on the path to becoming a horse girl. She asked him about the best present he had received, and he said “a pony.”

“That flicked a switch in me and suddenly I wanted a pony too,” she said. “I pestered my parents until they relented and took me to Darkes Forest Riding Ranch for a lesson. I ended up working there until I was 18 and left home to go to university.”

Now aged 31, Jen is living her childhood dream with five horses in the paddocks beside her house on the outskirts of Sydney. Among them is former star Chris Waller galloper McCreery, a six-time winner and earner of more than $700,000 in prizemoney. He ran his last race in November 2019 and Jen adopted him soon after.

McCreery salutes in the 2016 Group 3 Kingston Town Stakes. Credit – Bradley Photos.

“A friend knew I was looking for a horse to train for eventing and the NSW Police Equestrian Games so she put me in touch with a lovely group of people who were looking for a home for McCreery,” Jen said. “He was a bit older than what I initially wanted but when I lunged him he kept looking back at me and he tried so hard. I thought I can work with this.”

Jen gave McCreery a month in the paddock to let down before beginning retraining. She treated him like an unbroken horse and worked through the basics to ensure they were established.

“He was a bit anxious at the start but the more time I spent with him the more he relaxed, and I soon realised if I could get him to relax I could teach him anything,” Jen said.

A couple of months later Jen took McCreery to his first eventing clinic at Canberra Equestrian Park. The nerves he showed on arrival were settled when he joined other horses in the yard, and once he got out onto the cross country course he relished the challenge. It gave Jen the confidence to take McCreery to his first competition, an EVA60 event at Berrima.

“We didn’t place in that one, but McCreery tried hard so I was happy,” Jen said. “We picked up a ribbon for 6th in our second competition. We were near the bottom in dressage but went double clear in showjumping and cross country.”

Jen invested in regular lessons with renowned equestrian Nicky Lyle and McCreery continued to improve. She also attended more clinics and it wasn’t long before McCreery was easily jumping 80cm.

Dual Group 3 winner McCreery has taken to eventing with Jen like a duck to water. Credit – Melissa Goodson, Snapshot Australia.

“He’s come so far during the time I’ve had him,” Jen said. “Every time we do a cross country course I have to slow him down. He’s lightning fast away from jumps and doesn’t waste a second. I can ride him anywhere now too. We trail ride on the road. Cars, tractors and construction sites don’t faze him. He stops for people to pat him. I think he knows he’s special.

“Having him has been such a great experience. I’ve met heaps of people who worked with him as a racehorse and are interested in what he’s up to now. Charlotte Jenner cared for him as a stablehand and we’ve become friends. Sophie Baker from the Waller stable calls to see how we’re going.

“It’s great for my mental health too, especially in my line of work as a Police Officer. You have to be in control of your emotions around horses because they are like a mirror, whatever you project on them they project back on you. They can teach you a lot about yourself and if you give them the best of you, they will return the favour.”

While the Covid-19 pandemic halted all competitions and clinics, it hasn’t been all bad for Jen and McCreery. They took the chance to have a freshen up before continuing training at home.

“He was almost ready to step up to 95cm before covid hit but we’re working towards that again now,” Jen said. “I’m focused on restoring his competition fitness and his lateral work is really improving.”

Jen has recently added a new horse to her stable – an unraced 5-year-old Olympic Glory x Cubic Cat gelding she has named Bravo. She adopted him from Racing NSW’s equine welfare and rehoming division, Team Thoroughbred NSW.

Bravo and Jen in action at Camden Hunter Trials. Credit – Melissa Goodson, Snapshot Australia.

“When I headed up to the Belltrees property to meet the horses chosen for me, I hooked up my float just in case I really liked one. Bravo was the second horse I rode, and I told them to put the others away because I knew he was the horse for me.”

Jen has been working on retraining him as a showjumper and he’s already showing plenty of potential.

“He actually cleared a 1.2m fence and jumped out of his paddock the other day so he certainly has talent,” she said with a grin. “I’m looking forward to testing him over bigger jumps but I am happy to take it slowly. I’ve never paid more than $1000 for a horse but if you’re willing to put the time in to train them well you don’t need to. Regardless of which horse it is, the class is always in session. Every ride you are either improving them or undoing your work.”

This story was originally published in Racing NSW Magazine.

The Penzas’ New Pastime

By Julieanne Horsman

It’s 3 o’clock on a Sunday morning, pitch black, freezing cold and most people are still fast asleep. Not Michelle and Jeff Penza. They’re busy loading up their horse float for a trip to a showjumping competition in Canberra and they couldn’t be happier.

“We’re like little kids excitedly heading off to school camp,” Michelle says. “The days where we set off early, spend the whole day together at a horse event and come home late, exhausted but satisfied, are the best days,” Jeff adds.

Both have been around horses for most of their lives but have taken up competitive showjumping more recently. Jeff, a veteran jockey with almost 2000 wins to his name, decided to give showjumping a crack four years ago “for something different.” He began schooling his off the track Thoroughbred, former Con Karakatsanis-trained gelding Stromaise, and sought lessons from Australian champion and renowned coach, Dave Cameron. He then took on another retired racehorse, former Jan Bowen-trained gelding Fireball, and as the jumps grew, so too did Jeff’s enthusiasm.

Jeff piloted Fireball to victory in two races and is now guiding him through his new career as a showjumper. Credit – Geosnapshot.

Michelle had initially adopted former Jason Coyle galloper, Sherzando, as a pleasure horse. The flashy black gelding had impressed Jeff with his lovely canter and quiet nature when he rode him in a race at Newcastle. He was a breeze to retrain, and Michelle was content riding him around at home, but the pull of the coloured poles was too strong.  

“Jeff had become really passionate about jumping and a young girl I was giving riding lessons to wanted to get into it as well, so I thought I had better learn,” Michelle said.  

Michelle and Jeff joined Sydney Showjumping Club which isn’t far from their home in the Hawkesbury region. Guided by friends and talented equestrians, Kathy O’Hara and Elaine Robl, Jeff and Michelle began going to the training and competition days there. Next, it was horse shows further afield. Now the Penzas are a familiar and friendly sight on the circuit. It’s a juggle with Jeff’s jockeying commitments, but they make it work.

“We often go to shows in separate cars,” Michelle said. “Jeff competes then heads off to the races and I bring the horses home in the float.”

They target the Thoroughbred-specific classes when they are available. Sherzando jumps up to 90cm, Stromaise 1.10m and Fireball has no problems with 1.20m and beyond.

“The increasing sponsorship of Thoroughbred classes has made it more enticing to own one,” Jeff said. “There’s always rugs and prizemoney across a variety of classes. Those without Thoroughbreds are getting jealous!”

“We’re happy if the horses jump clear rounds and we have a good day out,” Michelle said. “There’s a lot of satisfaction in being pleased with your own efforts. Blue ribbons are a bonus.”

Michelle and Stromaise in full flight at Sydney Showjumping Club. Credit – Geosnapshot.

When pressed on who is the better rider, Jeff diplomatically declares he “has the more naturally talented horses.” “Michelle’s a better stablehand, she puts in the hard yards,” Jeff said. “I definitely brush my horses more.” Both agree Thoroughbreds are the ultimate equine athletes though and anyone who takes one off the track will reap the rewards.

 “They’re athletic and trainable with a great nature,” Jeff said. “They’re accustomed to travelling to the races, being walked around the parade ring, standing in the barriers, galloping flat out in front of screaming crowds. They’ve experienced it all.”

“They’re quick learners and agile, I love everything about them,” Michelle added. “We have had different breeds of horses over the years and keep coming back to the Thoroughbreds.”

The Penzas have recently added another off the track Thoroughbred to their jumping stable. Jeff rode Doug Gorrel-trained gelding Pheidippides in his final race and instantly liked him.

Couple goals – Jeff (on Stromaise) and Michelle (on Sherzando) enjoying a day out at the Canberra Showjumping Cup – Credit Rushe Photography.

“He jumped out, bowed his head down and gave me such a nice ride, especially for a young horse,” Jeff said. “He had no talent as a racehorse, but I liked him and asked If we could have him once he retired. We got the call about two months ago and we couldn’t be happier with him. He has a great attitude, is jumping well and has fitted in perfectly with our other horses. We’ve renamed him Bojack.”

For now, Michelle and Jeff don’t have any huge plans for their horses. They are simply looking forward to getting out and competing again. They are grateful to have their horses at home and couldn’t imagine a life without them.

“The horses give us life,” Michelle said. “They depend on you to care for them and that gives you worth. They bring a smile to my face every day.”

Kate’s Wingman Willing And Able

By Julieanne Horsman

Ping! Kate Clancy’s phone lit up with a facebook notification. One of her friends had tagged her in a post about an exciting new competition where talented horsewomen are given 100 days to transform a racehorse into a ranch horse. It sounded right up her alley and she was immediately interested. Ping! Another tag in the same post came through from a different friend who also knew Kate would be up to the challenge.

“There were two things that immediately stood out to me,” Kate said. “One, it’s for Thoroughbreds and I’ve always been a huge fan of the breed and two, it’s a 100-day challenge. It’s still not a great deal of time but it’s a lot longer than I normally have to prepare horses.”

Kate applied for the Race To Ranch Challenge at Cowgirls Gathering and was delighted when she was chosen as one of just ten finalists from across Australia. With her participation confirmed, Kate’s first task was to secure a horse to compete.

Kate Clancy and Wingman have formed a solid bond. Credit – Drew Ireland.

“I had to find a Thoroughbred that had raced in the past six months,” she said. “One of the other New South Wales representatives, Katie Tullia, actually suggested I contact Team Thoroughbred NSW. I knew of the organisation through social media but had a deeper look and got in touch.”

Team Thoroughbred NSW’s Rehoming Coordinator, LaToyah James, got straight to work poring over horse profiles to find the perfect match for Kate. There were several quality prospects but only one who had raced in the past six months – Wingman. The then three-year-old Deep Field x Fairies gelding had never even managed a place on the track, but he was well-built, easy to handle and enjoyed human interaction.

“I really liked the fact he was a young horse,” Kate said. “I enjoy working with young horses because they are supple in the mind.”

Wingman was loaded onto the transport truck bound for Gunnedah where he was met by Kate who then transferred him onto her truck for the remainder of the journey to her farm at Narrabri. He travelled well and was so calm when he arrived that Kate couldn’t resist doing exactly what she teaches everyone else not to – have a ride straight away.

“He was just so chilled, so I did some groundwork, made sure he was listening and jumped on,” Kate said sheepishly. “We just did a walk, trot and canter left and right. Wingman had a general confidence. I could tell he had been well-handled and well-travelled. That’s one of many things to love about the Thoroughbred breed. Generally, they have been handled from a young age in preparation for the sales.”

As a professional horse trainer, breaker and entertainer, Kate began preparing Wingman in the same way she would a Stock Horse or show horse, working on lateral flexion, counter-bending, leg-yielding and collection. He breezed through that, hit all the base markers, and earned himself his first outing.

“I took him to Texas Star for a training day,” Kate said. “He had his first look at some buffalo, cows and a mechanical cow. He was so brave. Back home we had him towing poles and every time he wanted to get away from it, I made him walk over it and that gave him the confidence to continue towing it behind him.”

The real test will come on 1st October 2021 when the Race To Ranch Challenge gets underway at Cowgirls Gathering in Kilkivan, Queensland. Over three days, Kate and Wingman will participate in Western Trail, Working Cow Horse and Freestyle sections.

Despite being just four years old, Wingman has excelled in his training with Kate. Credit – Rachel Charles.

“I’m feeling pretty good about where we are but I’m just happy to be involved in this initiative,” Kate said. “I want to use the experience to help people recognise the Thoroughbred breed outside of racing. My Mum has had a stroke which has knocked her around, but she is often out there grooming Wingman and leading him around. He’s a big horse but not once has she felt intimidated and that speaks volumes.”

The trip is going to have to be a quick one though with Kate needing to get back to Narrabri to continue working with her other horses. As if that wasn’t enough, she is also planning her wedding.

“I will be coming home with a smile on my face regardless of the outcome,” she said.  

While Kate began riding horses at a young age and has fond memories of fanging her Quarab pony Keira bareback around the bush behind Morisset Hospital, she didn’t start competing until she was 18. Straight out of school she worked at Middlebrook Valley Lodge and Middlebrook Station and it was when she went to study at Tocal Agricultural College she realised working with horses was her true calling.

“I knew then horsemanship was something I wanted to master and began applying everything I was learning on my Thoroughbred mare, La Cugina,” Kate said. “She knows all the tricks and I still have her today.

“I would like to continue educating Wingman beyond Race To Ranch. I want to find out what he is supposed to do, be it Pony Club, eventing or making him a Show Hunter, and give him a solid base to set him up for success off the track. Although I’ve got half a mind to keep him for myself!”