New Career For Legendary Bush Galloper

By Julieanne Horsman

Saying goodbye to a racehorse who had tried his heart out in 101 starts was never going to be easy for Gulgong trainer Brett Thompson. Especially one as sentimentally significant as Hewentwhoosh. The Dane Shadow x Zebithea gelding was the first Thoroughbred he chose and bought himself and kickstarted his career as a trainer.

“I was at the Scone Inglis sales and spotted this athletic little horse who walked really well,” Thompson said. “I got him for only $4500 and said to my son don’t tell mum we bought another horse!”

Thompson’s eldest son Ben broke the horse in, and youngest son Jay came up with his name. Hewentwhoosh ran his first race under Brett’s father James Thompson’s banner, before being transferred into Brett’s stable. Over the eight years that followed, Hewentwhoosh won 14 races, notched 30 places and earned almost $300,000 in prizemoney. He claimed the 2009 Inglis 2YO Challenge and contributed to Thompson winning five Central Districts Training Premierships in a row and being named NSW Country Trainer of the year in 2016.

Hewentwhoosh recorded the final win of his career at Cowra on 20th August 2016. It was his 95th race start. Credit: Janian McMillan – Racing Photography

“John O’Shea actually tried to buy him at one point, but we had all fallen in love with him and wanted to continue to enjoy the ride,” Thompson said.

When the time came time to retire Hewentwhoosh in December 2016, Thompson couldn’t imagine parting with him. So he didn’t. He kept the gelding at home as a nanny for his weanlings but as the years went by, he felt compelled to give the horse a chance at a second career.

“I hate seeing horses standing in the paddock going to waste,” Thompson said. “Most of them like to have a job, they like to have a routine, so I asked one of my staff members, Elizabeth Theobald, to get him going.”

Elizabeth, an accomplished horsewoman in her own right, noted Hewentwhoosh’s potential as a sport horse but between work and her own horses, she didn’t have enough time to dedicate to helping him reach it. Then her friend, former jockey and talented showjumper Aimee Taylor, came to Gulgong for a visit.

“Elizabeth and Brett said to me we’ve got this great little horse who is going to make a jumper and we only want him to go to the best of homes,” Taylor said. “I had a ride on him, Elizabeth jumped him for me and I said yes, I will take him.”

Aimee’s partner, 2020 Group 1 Doncaster-winning jockey James Innes Junior, had been apprenticed to Thompson early in his career and had ridden Hewentwhoosh in trackwork, but by all accounts the horse was a little difficult to handle back then.

“He would try it on with all the apprentices,” Thompson said. “Jimmy would hate me when I put him on.”

Like Brett did more than twelve years earlier, Aimee had to sneak Hewentwhoosh home and hope her partner wouldn’t notice.

“James had gone to Queensland to ride in the Stradbroke so it was good timing,” Taylor said with a laugh. “I’ve had to sneak the last few horses home while he wasn’t there!”

Aimee and Hewentwhoosh in action at the Christine Bates One Day Event. Credit: Melissa Goodson – Snapshotaustralia

Aimee continued Hewentwhoosh’s retraining and was impressed by how quick and willing he was to learn. Just a few months later they were taking part in the Christine Bates One Day Event. 

“It was only his second time out and I was so happy with how he went,” Taylor said. “We came fourth overall. Showjumping is definitely his strongest discipline. When he gets on the cross country course he remembers he was a racehorse and wants to go fast. He’s got a lot to learn but has a sweet nature and is always improving. I’m looking forward to seeing how far he can go.”

Aimee keeps in regular contact with Brett, Elizabeth and Hewentwhoosh’s previous owners, sending them updates and pictures.

“I love getting the updates and it makes me so happy and proud to see him doing well off the track,” Thompson said. “Saying goodbye to him was hard but I know he’s gone to a good home. We put a lot of effort into rehoming our retired racehorses. We’re all horse people and we love our horses.”

Aimee recently took on retired Tim Martin-trained gelding Pride Of Darci and also has former Pat Webster-trained gelding Shark Tank who she adopted in 2017 and retrained as a showjumper. It was love at first sight when she spotted the big bay in the parade ring at Newcastle races.

“I literally turned to Jimmy and said stop, look at him,” Taylor said. “I made him go back in and ask if I could have him when he retired from racing. It was the best decision. Shark Tank is such a good allrounder. He’s great with my kids too.”

Aimee enjoyed success as a jockey in her native New Zealand, China and Australia before taking time out to have her two children. She was determined to bounce back and incredibly returned to riding trackwork just one month after giving birth to her first son, Carter. She had her second son Asher in April this year and again returned to riding trackwork and showjumping quickly. She acknowledges she wouldn’t be able to do it without the support of her friends.

“I’m really lucky to have good support around me, especially Sophie Brooks,” Taylor said. “She helps with saddling and holds the kids. It makes a huge difference. Christine Bates is really accommodating when we have lessons too.

“It’s so nice to be able to do a bit more showjumping and eventing now. It all took a back seat when I was travelling a lot as a jockey.”

This story was first published in Racing NSW Magazine.

Three Stooges Perform In Life After Racing

As the old saying goes, when you’re onto a good thing stick to it. For some, it’s buying a pair of their favourite shoes in every colour. For others, it’s swinging past the same café for their daily caffeine hit. For talented horsewoman Elaine Robl, it’s finding a special off the track Thoroughbred and adopting all of his brothers as well.

It was a slow racehorse named Jade Crusader who ignited Elaine’s passion for Fantakan progeny. While riding trackwork at Warwick Farm, she began schooling the gelding in showjumping in an effort to get the best out of him at the races. She even rode him at Berrima Hunter Trials while in full work to try and fire him up but the best he ever finished was 6th. He ran his last race at Goulburn in July 2014 and Elaine brought him home later that year.

Elaine’s then 10-year-old daughter Hayley needed a new mount for Pony Club and asked if she could have Jade Crusader. Understandably, Elaine was a little hesitant as the horse was only four at the time, but after making sure he was safe she let Hayley have a ride. They clicked straight away and from that moment Jade Crusader was Hayley’s.

Apart from having a nice temperament, there were no signs to suggest Jade Crusader was anything special or that he would one day easily jump 1.5m. He was a bit clumsy and another person who had also ridden the horse in trackwork said he would never jump competitively.

Jade Crusader and Hayley won their first event at Berrima Horse Trials and the achievements and ribbons kept coming year after year. In June 2019 they won their first 1* event – a competition incorporating dressage, showjumping up to 1.15m and cross country with jumps up to 1.10m. Next was a third place in 1* eventing at Interschools Nationals, followed by a first in the 120cm Thoroughbred class at the Sydney Showjumping Club Championships, first in 1* at Oxley Horse Trials and Champion Child’s Thoroughbred and Reserve Champion Allrounder at the Thoroughbred Spring Fair. They were also declared the unofficial bareback high jump champions at Franklin Street Stables in Matraville after clearing 1.4m.

“The higher the jumps were, the better Jade Crusader performed,” Elaine said. “He always tries his heart out and is so eager to please. Every time we raise the bar he literally leaps over it.”

As Hayley was considering stepping up to 2* eventing, Bruce Cross was considering the racing future of Jade Crusader’s half-brother, Adaboycharlie. He won at his second start and showed plenty of promise, but hadn’t saluted in the two years since.

“I said to Bruce I’ll have that one too,” Elaine said. “I took Hayley to the stables to meet Adaboycharlie and she just loved him straight away. He was really cuddly and lapped up affection.”

Despite Elaine’s interest, Bruce’s granddaughter Maddy initially took Adaboycharlie, but when she started studying for her HSC she was too busy and he ended up joining Elaine’s stable in March this year.

While Adaboycharlie is the youngest of Fantakan’s three sons, Beauty Best was the most successful on the track and the last to be adopted by Elaine. The gelding won his first three starts for Bruce Cross before being exported to Hong Kong. He returned to Australia two years later and notched a win and several places for Tamworth trainer Melanie O’Gorman before she called time on his career.

“I had my eye on him for a while,” Elaine said. “Melanie does breaking and pre-training for Peter (Robl, Elaine’s husband) so I contacted her and asked if I could have Beauty Best when he retired. He was here five weeks after his last race.”

Hayley on Jade Crusader, Elaine on Beauty Best and Emma on Adaboycharlie training together at Matraville. Credit – Laila Lynch.

Elaine and Hayley worked Jade Crusader, Adaboycharlie and Beauty Best together as much as they could. Their friend Emma McGuigan would often help out and developed a soft spot for Adaboycharlie. Emma was getting back into riding after a few years off and looking for a new horse. Elaine and Hayley agreed they didn’t have enough time to give all their horses the attention they deserved so they sold Adaboycharlie to Emma. All three horses still live together at Franklin Street Stables and are a source of entertainment for anyone who looks their way.

“They’re like the three stooges,” Elaine said. “There’s the two funny ones and the serious one. That’s Beauty Best. They have their own personalities but if you watch them for long enough you can see similarities in their behaviour.”

Elaine is full of praise for the three horses but she says they have a common annoying habit.

“They’ve been a dream to retrain and are naturally talented jumpers but they can’t resist chewing everything and throwing their buckets around,” she said. “We can’t feed them on the ground or the bucket will be upside down in a second.”

Despite Covid-19 halted competitions and disrupted training for most equestrians, Hayley is still on track to represent Randwick Girls High School in 2* Eventing at State Interschools this month. She placed third in 1* at the same competition last year and is hoping for another podium finish. Emma is continuing Adaboycharlie’s education and is set to take him to his first eventing competition in Spring and Beauty Best isn’t far off making his showjumping debut either.

The horses’ former trainer Bruce Cross enjoys following their progress and comes out to cheer Jade Crusader and Hayley on when time permits.

“Credit has to go to Elaine,” Bruce said. “She has done an outstanding job with those horses. I would have liked them to be a bit faster on the track but I am happy they have a good home.”

While there are no more Fanatkans coming through the grades, Hayley is devoted to the bloodlines and has already put dibs on the mare’s sister’s daughter’s three-year-old colt when he retires.

Rachael’s Landing Goals On & Off The Track

Growing up on a 3000acre property at Inverell in Northern NSW, Rachael Murray would often go missing. Her parents need not have worried though. She would always be found soon after, curled up in the kennels with the working dogs or playing with the poddy lambs out in the sunshine.

Now 31, not a great deal has changed. When Rachael isn’t travelling around the state riding winners, she’s usually at home at Somersby on the Central Coast with her dog Jet and two off the track Thoroughbreds, Mr Pumblechook and Medal Of Glory.

“I was staying at Jane’s (Clement, trainer) house and we decided to go for a trail ride over the river,” Rachael said. “I was riding Medal Of Glory in a race the next day and despite being in full work he was an angel. We wound our way through gullies and splashed in the water. It was so much fun. My love for him went to the next level that day and I knew I wanted to adopt him once he had retired.”

Retired racehorses Medal Of Glory and Mr Pumblechook have become part of Rachael’s family. Credit – Daryl Duckworth Photography.

By the time Medal Of Glory ran his last race in 2017, he had seven wins and 19 places to his name. Rachael was aboard for one of those wins (The 2016 Warialda Cup) and five of the places. She began retraining him as a showjumper and was impressed by his willingness and consistent effort.

“He’s such a kind horse and always tries his heart out,” Rachael said. “He leaps about two feet above every jump and clears them easily. Sometimes his jump is so big he can throw me right out of the saddle!”

Rachael added former Greg Bennett then Cody Morgan-trained gelding, Mr Pumblechook, to her stable in September last year, having earlier won two races on him.

Medal Of Glory has shown plenty of scope over jumps.

“From the moment I laid eyes on him I loved him with all my heart,” Rachael said. “He has so much zest for life and loved being a racehorse. I kept in contact with owner Neil Werrett and asked if I could keep him when he retired. Cody would tease me and say his mum wanted Chookie but thankfully he came home with me in the end. He is little for a Thoroughbred, just 15.1hh, but he’s a natural jumper.

“I’ve done a lot of groundwork with both horses so they are respectful and desensitised. You want to feel safe and in control when riding them. They aren’t a responsibility or chore though. They are my family and I love them dearly.”

Despite already being an accomplished rider, Rachael gets dressage and showjumping tuition from Gosford trainer, John Cooper. John has dedicated his life to equestrian sports and even coached Olympians but became a racehorse trainer in 2017 after suffering a serious injury in a jumping accident.

“John and his wife Pip are such good, genuine horse people,” Rachael said.  “They are full of knowledge and have made themselves a beautiful home at Central Mangrove. It’s a true credit to how hard they have worked. I would recommend anyone with an off the track Thoroughbred invest in lessons.”

Rachael has taken Medal Of Glory out to several competitions and on some occasions had to dash off early to ride at the races. She’s hoping to take Mr Pumblechook on his first outing soon.

“It’s a balancing act, that’s for sure,” Rachael said. “I would love to have them both at a level where I can take them out to showjumping days and be competitive. Getting involved in the Off The Track series would be a dream.”

Rachael isn’t the only professional rider to be taking retired racehorses and giving them a second career off the track. Alena Skerritt has Group 3 winner Mighty Lucky, Jess Taylor adopted Tsunami Alert after scoring a win and two places with him, Kathy O’Hara retrained Zaratone after winning a Group 3 and several Listed races on him, young former jockey Chloe Wilkes is retraining Our Sarastro and inaugural Kosciuszko runner Fuel and Courtney Van Der Werf is making 1.15m look easy on Mediterranean.

Rachael and Mr Pumblechook teamed up to blitz the competition at Gunnedah in 2016. Credit – Bradley Photos

“Most people are in the industry because they are passionate about horses,” Rachael said. “You wouldn’t get up in the dark and freezing cold every day if you didn’t love it. Often you see strappers, stablehands, trackwork riders, jockeys and trainers looking worn out but the horses are thriving.”

While Rachael has always loved horses and spent most of her youth at Inverell Pony Club, she wasn’t always going to be a jockey. The stars aligned in 2008 when she was studying Agricultural Science at the University of New England.

Rachael roomed with a teaching student named Tracy O’Hara, a talented jockey who chalked up almost 300 wins herself and the sister of leading Sydney jockey Kathy O’Hara. Rachael mentioned she needed a job and the O’Haras suggested she become an apprentice jockey. Agreeing it would be an enjoyable way to earn a living, Rachael approached Armidale trainer Frank Tanner and was soon indentured to him. Once she graduated from university, she moved to Scone where she was apprenticed to Greg Bennett. Later she moved to Sydney where she finished her apprenticeship with then Warwick Farm trainer Michael Costa. Rachael credits him with teaching her to believe in herself and encouraged her to keep aiming high.

In 2017 Rachael wrote herself into the history books as the first female jockey to ride 100 winners in a season, smashing the previous record of 87 set by Linda Meech a decade before. In June Rachael celebrated her 500th winner as a jockey. While she has no plans to slow down anytime soon when she does she would love to become a Thoroughbred re-trainer and prepare retired racehorses for their next pursuit off the track.

“I look forward to the day when I can have a slower-paced life with limited travelling,” she said. “It would be a dream to have a little property away from all the hustle and bustle where I could give retired racehorses the best opportunity for a successful and rewarding life after racing.”

This story was first published in the August edition of Racing NSW Magazine.

Off The Track Thoroughbred Showing More Than A Snippet Of Talent

Cruising around the 75cm course at Sydney Showjumping Club, there was little to suggest it was only Snippets Of Rain’s second outing. Talented equestrienne Stephanie Laraud adopted the five-year-old retired racehorse from Team Thoroughbred NSW in May and he has excelled in his retraining, prompting her to put him to the test.

“I couldn’t be happier with his performance,” Stephanie said. “He was calm and focussed. There were sheep in the paddock next to the arena and this distracted some horses but he didn’t even look at them.”

The pair went clear in the second round and Stephanie left the arena beaming from ear to ear.

“He has a really good jump and always tries hard to please,” she said. “Given his age, you have to ask him properly. With young horses, you can’t really make a mistake with your hands as they are not in a position to help you out while they are learning themselves. He is very promising though.”

It was a different story on the track. As a racehorse Snippets Of Rain had fourteen starts for a modest record of one second and two thirds. Muswellbrook-based trainer Todd Howlett called curtains on his racing career in September 2019 after running a long last at Bowraville. Snippets of Rain was retired to Team Thoroughbred’s Sydney facility, Bart’s Farm, where he immediately caught the eye of retrainer Charlie Brister.

“He was a little green but had a good attitude from the start,” Charlie said. “He was straightforward to jump and had a big heart.”

Stephanie had owned Thoroughbreds before but was looking for her first project horse to retrain with the guidance of her coach, Sandra Tremier from Tic Toc Equestrian. A mutual friend recommended she look at Team Thoroughbred, having bought a horse from the program herself.

“Working in the racing industry I know there are many horses looking for good homes and I wanted to help,” Stephanie said. “Thoroughbreds have so much to give and I am enjoying the challenge of retraining one.”

Snippets Of Rain and Stephanie clicked instantly.

Initially, a talented jumping mare named Dashing Hollie was recommended for Stephanie but when she rode her at Bart’s Farm they didn’t really click. She then rode Snippets Of Rain and knew he was the one for her.

“I liked the look of him, I tried him and within ten minutes I made the decision to buy him,” she said. “He was so calm and willing. I tried him over cross rails and he just did it.”

Stephanie came to Australia from France six years ago. Back home she is a criminal lawyer but her qualifications aren’t fully recognised down under so she followed her passion to Chris Waller’s Rosehill Gardens stables and became a trackwork rider and stable hand. While Stephanie works with horses daily, she says it is different when it’s your own.

“Jumping is a completely different sort of adrenaline to riding fast work,” Stephanie said. “It’s like you’re flying. When I go to see my horse it is like I am going to see my best friend. I never get tired of him. He fills me with energy.”

Over the next couple of weeks Stephanie plans to step Snippets Of Rain up to 85 and 95cm jumps and within a year hopes to be jumping 1.10m nicely.

“Twelve months is a long time for young horses but he’s already so good,” Stephanie said. “The only thing I can hope for him is to remain consistent. We all want to go and jump bigger so I will try and increase his strength. I would like to see him lift his back legs a bit more. He can be a bit lazy at the moment. He’s good with the front.”

Retired Racehorses To Benefit From Sale Of Winx Model

By the time Winx ran her final race in April 2019, she had amassed $26,451,175 in prizemoney, 25 Group 1 trophies, the title of World’s Best Racehorse and millions of admirers around the globe who dreamed of one day owning a horse half as good her. While the real deal isn’t for sale and most of us couldn’t afford her anyway, Winx fans can now buy a scale model of the wonder mare and help care for retired racehorses at the same time.

Renowned modelling company Breyer Horses approached Winx’s owners about creating a model of her likeness after she won the Secretariat Vox Populi Award in The United States in January 2019. They had already rejected pitches from other companies but were impressed by the level of research and effort Breyer put into the project. Winx’s trainer Chris Waller and regular jockey Hugh Bowman inspected the design drawings and were satisfied it accurately represented the mare, but there was one more condition which had to be met before it was given the green light.

“As owners, we’re interested in paying forward our good fortune so Breyer kindly agreed to donate $1 from the sale of every Winx model to a charity of our choice,” Debbie Kepitis said on behalf of the ownership group. “We have chosen Team Thoroughbred NSW as the recipient.”

Team Thoroughbred NSW is Racing NSW’s equine welfare division. Thoroughbreds who have been predominantly domiciled in NSW can be surrendered into Team Thoroughbred NSW’s care to be retrained and rehomed at no cost to the owner. This ensures all retired racehorses have a quality home to go to at all times. Team Thoroughbred also has two dedicated equine welfare veterinarians who monitor retired racehorses in their new homes.

“I truly believe we need to look after the animals which are bred for this industry,” Debbie said. “It’s great to know Team Thoroughbred provides a safety net for these horses to ensure they are cared for in a way the industry can be proud of.”

The Winx model is now available for $79.95 from TopTac as well as Saddle World, Horseland and some independent saddleries and toy stores. Each model is made to the traditional 1:9 scale. Already there has been a huge demand for the model. It sold out in the United States and is expected to sell out down under too.

Debbie was one of the first to receive her Winx model which has pride of place on her desk at home.

“It’s very humbling and touching to think there are so many people all over the world who have watched Winx on any sort of media from phones to televisions,” Debbie said. “They have told us of the excitement and joy she brought them and how she made them feel like you can do whatever you want to do.”

Meet Team Thoroughbred’s Dedicated Equine Welfare Vet Keeping An Eye On Retired Racehorses

If you’ve recently rehomed an off the track Thoroughbred from New South Wales, you can expect a house call from Dr Carly Garling in the near future. The dedicated equine welfare veterinarian is one of two appointed by Racing NSW specifically to monitor retired racehorses in their new homes.

Dr Carly Garling is one of Racing NSW’s equine welfare veterinarians.

Each day Racing Australia updates its database of retired racehorses including their new location and person responsible for their welfare. From that, Dr Garling chooses a handful of horses from a similar area and phones their new owners to arrange a time to visit.

“It’s important that these horses are where the previous owner has declared they are,” she said. “We also ensure they are receiving adequate care.”

Every inspection includes a microchip scan, basic examination of the horse and an assessment of its surroundings. The vet will talk to the new owner about their plans for the horse and address any queries or concerns either party has.

“Thoroughbred owners need not be scared of us,” Dr Garling said. “We’re not out to take anyone’s horses. Most people are doing the right thing which is great to see. Sometimes you might find a horse lacking a bit of condition but that can be managed. The most common mistake people make is thinking grass will be enough for their Thoroughbred.”

Dr Garling recommends finding out your horse’s previous diet and routine and gradually adjusting it.

“Off the track Thoroughbreds are accustomed to being hand-fed every meal, regularly given fresh water and rugged daily,” she said. “It may sound silly but retired racehorses may not know how to drink from a dam and if it’s their only option in a paddock there could be serious consequences.”

Carly in action on her first Thoroughbred, Tennant Creek.

As part of her role, Dr Garling also investigates reports of neglect and concerns for welfare. She urges anyone who finds themselves in a situation where they are struggling to care for their horse to contact Team Thoroughbred for help. If need be, Thoroughbreds which have spent most of the life in NSW can be surrendered to Team Thoroughbred where they will be cared for, retrained and rehomed.

Dr Garling joined Team Thoroughbred NSW, Racing NSW’s equine welfare division, at the start of 2020 having done casual work at the races for the past three and a half years while also operating her own private practice in Wollondilly Shire. She is a talented rider herself and competed in one-star eventing from the age of 18 on an off the track Thoroughbred named Tennant Creek. The big chestnut gelding was originally trained at Hawkesbury by Michael Wilson and Dean Tanti piloted him to his one and only race victory at Goulburn in August 1998.

“When the opportunity came up to work with Team Thoroughbred I jumped at it,” she said. “Having grown up riding off the track Thoroughbreds it was a passion of mine I had to follow.

“The best part of my job is seeing these horses in a new home where they are loved and appreciated for a completely different reason to being a racehorse. There is so much value in a Thoroughbred. They’re beautiful, versatile horses that come with exceptional training.”

Minimum Standards and guidelines for equine welfare can be found here.

Little Sister Blooms Into Elite Rider

Like most little girls, Sarah Wilton wanted to be just like her big sister. She wore her clothes, asked her mum to give them matching hairstyles and at six years old she followed her to Dural Pony Club. Sarah was delighted to receive her sister’s hand-me-down horses and by eleven she was ready for her very first Thoroughbred. His name was Battle Bullet, a former Brett Thompson gelding who had failed to fire on the track. He ignited her passion for the breed, which only intensified with age and experience.

Fast forward to late 2018 and Sarah, then 18, heard about a partnership between Pony Club and Racing NSW’s equine welfare division Team Thoroughbred NSW, which offered senior riders the opportunity to retrain retired racehorses for an international showjumping competition. She saw it as a great chance to broaden her skills and applied straight away. When she was told she was one of just twelve talented equestrians chosen from more than 100 applicants, she was over the moon.

Sarah working a Team Thoroughbred horse at Yarramundi, NSW.

Sarah arrived at Racing NSW’s equine welfare property Princes Farm (now renamed Bart’s Farm in honour of its previous owner, legendary racehorse trainer Bart Cummings) in the January 2019 summer holidays for the first of three training camps and was pleasantly surprised to discover she already knew most of the other riders chosen for the program. She was in awe of the facilities and excited to be at a “real” Thoroughbred farm.

Throughout the program, Sarah and her fellow riders were involved in every aspect of the horses’ care from helping with the feeds, grooming and mucking out stables to work in hand, poles and eventually jumping. Every rider was assigned daily lessons with Team Thoroughbred NSW staff and expert coaches to help guide them through the process. Most of the horses were quite green and the task of preparing them to jump at least 1m by October seemed daunting, but every participant was committed to making it happen.

The first horse Sarah worked with was Moment To Test, a former Danielle Seib galloper who had managed just one win in 29 starts as a racehorse. She also rode Stonebrook from Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott’s stable, as well as Beauing who was previously trained by Peter Eggleston at Newcastle. Some horses learned quicker than others, but Sarah enjoyed working with them all.

“Even after a week you could see a clear difference in the horses,” Sarah said. “The constant handling and one-on-one attention really brought them on. It was satisfying to see them develop before our eyes. One kept refusing at a jump but I kept trying and in the end we got there. Being on them when they jumped for the first time was such an amazing feeling.”

Sarah and her first Thoroughbred, Battle Bullet.

With the end goal of having the horses ready for the Tri-Nations Showjumping Challenge at the Pony Club National Championships in October 2019, program organisers had to be ruthless when deciding which horses would make the final team. Four elite young riders from France, China and Australia would be taking part in the challenge, and to make it fair, all twelve would be competing on borrowed mounts. Team Thoroughbred was determined to showcase the most talented horses so those with injuries or limited scope were swapped out for others with more potential.

When Sarah arrived for the third training camp in July, a new handsome chestnut caught her eye. Grand Finalist, who had won two races for Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott, had not long retired but had an athletic build and the right temperament to succeed in the program.

“I fell in love with him before I even sat on him,” Sarah said. “I had my first lesson with him and he was so good the entire time. He was easy to do everything with and loved post-training cuddles. We started jumping and he was overjumping every time. He would run with me back to the barn. I decided I had to have him, put dibs on him for when the program was over and started working on convincing my Mum!”

Sarah didn’t have to wait until the program was over to take Grand Finalist home though. Organisers conceded it would be too much of a stretch to adequately prepare him for the Tri-Nations Showjumping Challenge, so Sarah officially adopted him and has been continuing his re-education ever since.

“He’s been out to Pony Club and Galston Equestrian Club and didn’t change character at all which was a relief,” Sarah said. “People were complimenting me on him and that made me happy. He likes to be stimulated and seems to enjoy his new life. I’d like to get him jumping 1.20m and competing in the Jump Off series would be a dream. The bushfires then the floods and now Coronavirus have disrupted my plans for him but I’m looking forward to competitions resuming.”

Grand Finalist’s adoption story isn’t unique. In fact, every horse in the Tri-Nations Showjumping Challenge was rehomed either with a Pony Club rider who couldn’t bear to let them go or an adult connected to the program. Seventeen-year-old Max Robinson is already out completing clear showjumping rounds on former Joe Cleary gelding, Cliff. Emily Andres, also seventeen, is teaching dressage to former Simon Casey gelding Me Auld Segotia and Mark Newnham’s former sprinter Ipso Facto is excelling at eventing with sixteen-year-old Charlotte Wells, to name a few.

Sarah’s impressive riding skills and positive attitude also helped her land her dream job as a trainer and rider with Team Thoroughbred NSW at Bart’s Farm. She started out volunteering and her efforts were rewarded with a full-time job.

Sarah and Grand Finalist. Picture – Brooklyn Gregory BMG Photography.

“My day starts around 6:30am with the feed run,” Sarah said. “We drive around the property and see all the horses. It’s probably my favourite time of the day. Next, we make up the new feeds and then start riding. I finish with the hay run in the afternoon.

“Horses are my passion and I feel so lucky to be able to work with them every day. Horses are the way they are because of how they are treated, good or bad, and you can see yourself coming out in the horse. You do get attached to them but as sad as it is to see them leave, it’s rewarding to find them quality new homes and follow their progress. Social media is great for that. I’m always seeing photos of our graduates pop up on Instagram. I’m in contact with Grand Finalist’s previous owners on social media. They’re grateful for the updates and it’s heartening to see how much they still care about the horse long after his last race.

“I get emotional when I hear people spreading misinformation about retired racehorses having no future. I take a deep breath and explain to them where I work and what we do. It’s all for the love of the horse.”

The Tri-Nations Showjumping Challenge was declared a great success with China the overall winners and Stonebrook the best performed Team Thoroughbred NSW horse. It will likely be held again at the next Pony Club National Championships in 2021.

This story was first published in Racing NSW Magazine. 

Blackboard Special Too Good To Pass Up

With a Grandfather who was the Field Master of the Sydney Hunt and an extended family full of talented riders, Asarri McPhee was destined to catch the horse bug at a young age. It was his grandfather who unwittingly introduced him to showumping too and the now 28-year-old is hooked.

Asarri and his first jumping Thoroughbred, Rousing.

“I bought an off the track Thoroughbred (former Grant Allard-trained gelding Rousing) three of four years ago with the intention of making him a hunter, “Asarri said. “But my Grandfather took one look at him and said that horse is a showjumper so I thought I had better learn. I started teaching myself and also had lessons with Vicki Roycroft.”

Fast forward to May 2019 and Asarri was ready for a second showjumping horse. Course builder Ronnie Porter told him about Racing NSW’s equine welfare and rehoming division, Team Thoroughbred, so he decided to start his search there. He filled out the online application form and made an appointment to meet the retired racehorses which had been suggested for him at Team Thoroughbred’s Oxley Island facility.

“When I got there Mal (the Farm Manager) had three horses for me to try,” Asarri said. “The first two were ok but didn’t feel quite right. They hesitated at the jumps.”

Asarri then got on a striking Snitzel gelding named Blackboard Special who had previously been trained at Grafton by Wayne S Lawson.

“I liked his breeding straight away but his canter was to die for,” Asarri said. “He has the smoothest canter I have ever ridden. I pointed him at a jump and he just went for it. He didn’t look around, he didn’t hesitate. I thought to myself I can work with that!”

Asarri has high hopes for Blackboard Special.

Asarri took Blackboard Special home to continue his education. The priority was testing the brakes and once they were tuned up, he started on poles. Next they stepped up to cross rails, then proper jumps. Blackboard Specials always tried hard and by October both he and Asarri were ready for their Competition Day at Sydney Jump Club.

“He was good but a bit green which is understandable,” Asarri said. “He’s a completely different horse now. I can get him around a 90cm course. He does have a few issues with his manners, but he improves with every event. We’ve been out together every weekend since 12th January.”

Asarri’s ultimate goal is to get Blackboard Special into the Jump Off series and he believes he has the power and strength to eventually be a 1.30m. horse. Coronavirus has thrown a spanner in the works with shows and competitions on hold for the moment, but luckily he can still ride at home.

“We’ll be doing a lot of flatwork in the coming weeks and trail riding as well,” Asarri said. “I love off the track Thoroughbreds. They try so hard for you. Jamie Coman (EA Coach) says the Snitzel line is one of the best for showjumping if you can get your hands on one and I feel very lucky to have one. I got all the benefits for $1000.”

The Star & The Slow Poke Double The Del-ight

As racehorses, Delectation and Delarthur couldn’t have had more different careers. Delectation won a Group 1 and amassed more than $1.6million in prizemoney. Delarthur raced once, came last and didn’t earn a cent. The unlikely pair have come together in retirement though. Both geldings got rails runs into life after racing when they were given to Team Thoroughbred to be retrained, and they hit the jackpot when they were adopted by Sue Small.

Delectation was an outstanding racehorse. Credit: Bradley Photos.

Sue has been a horsewoman her whole life. She grew up attending Pony Club with her brothers and was an accomplished showjumper by the time she reached high school. She took out back-to-back Australian Junior Showjumping Championships in 1984 and 1985 and won dozens of other titles across the country. She worked with horses after finishing school but when the recession hit the opportunities dried up and she trained as a registered nurse. Sue enjoyed that job for six years but the pull of horses was too strong and she eventually accepted a job at Edinburgh Park Stud at Taree. Among the highlights was preparing the yearling who would go on to become unbeaten, seven-time Group 1 winning racehorse, Silent Witness. From there Sue moved to Phalaris Stud at Rylstone where she met Jeff Brash, who now manages Team Thoroughbred’s equine welfare farm at Capertee. She then worked as the broodmare manager at Woodlands Stud and as Jeff’s foreman when he was a racehorse trainer before returning home to Wingham to look after her ageing parents. Sue became an equestrian coach, teaching at Pony Clubs around the mid north coast. She also hosts a jumping clinic once a month at Tarcoola and offers private lessons locally.

“I love teaching kids to be quietly confident and helping them realise how much fun jumping is when the horse and rider trust each other,” she said. I know I have done my job when I see improvement and a big smile on the rider’s face.”

In August last year, Sue and her mother Kay went to visit Jeff at Capertee. She wasn’t necessarily looking for a horse, but she couldn’t walk past Delarthur who was in a paddock close to the homestead.

Indi rushes home from school to jump Delarthur.

“He was a lovely type and had a kind eye,” Sue said. “I took him for a ride, thought he was beautiful and that was that. I had to have him.”

Once home, Sue took Delarthur on daily trail rides so they could get to know each other and relax. She gradually introduced more exercises and despite being only three-years-old, he took it all in his stride. It wasn’t long before Sue entrusted one of her star students, 15-year-old Indi Fardell, to take Delarthur over some jumps.

“He has a nice movement and a natural aptitude for jumping,” Sue said. “He’s very laid back. I can understand why he didn’t make it as a racehorse.”

When Sue needed another jumping prospect a couple of months later, there was no question about where she would begin her search and Delectation joined her team at the end of Spring. Indi comes to the stables to ride both Dels after school and Sue’s other students Kiara (18), Kaylee (15) and Harry (13) Green also have lessons on them and do everything from flatwork to grids to jumping.

“Harry especially is proud to be riding Delectation,” Sue said. “He tells all his friends he rides a Group 1 winner who was trained by Winx’s trainer. As soon as he says Winx the other kids’ eyes light up. Everyone knows Winx. One day he came in and told me he had watched all of Delectation’s race replays. He said he couldn’t find much on Delarthur though!

Sue and Delectation.

“It’s funny, Delarthur has actually learned to run a bit faster since sharing a paddock with Delectation,” Sue said. “At feed time Delectation is still first to the gate though!”

Sue’s students have been wanting to take Delarthur and Delectation to some local showjumping competitions, but they have had a hard time finding one. First they were postponed due to the bushfires and smoke haze and then they were washed out.

“It’s quite frustrating,” Sue said. “We’re hoping to get to Nabiac and Wingham Shows next month.”

Delarthur and Delectation have also taken on new roles as guest teachers at Taree Christian College. The year 9 and 10 agriculture students have been learning horse care and handling and have been practising their skills on the Dels.

“They are both doing so well in everything they do and I have the utmost faith in them,” Sue said. “Thoroughbreds are so versatile. A lot of my students have Thoroughbreds now, particularly the ones that are performing well in eventing. They have the stamina for cross country, the carefulness for showjumping and the movement for dressage.

“The main thing is people need to remember is horses need time,” Sue said. “If you don’t give them time to think about what you are teaching them, you will end up wishing you had.”

Delectation (far left) and Delarthur (middle back) with the agriculture students from Taree Christian College.