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.

Sassy Mare A Swinging Success In Deepwater

For a town of just 300 people, Deepwater on the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales punches above its weight. The population swells more than tenfold for the annual race day in January which has earned Deepwater Jockey Club an award for NSW Community Race Club of the Year. The local craft brewery wouldn’t be out of place in the trendiest parts of inner Sydney and now Deepwater can add a polo club to its list of local facilities.

Mi Sassy and Perry, one of the young men who helped retrain her.

Deepwater Polo Club hosted its first clinic this month and more than one third of the horses involved were off the track Thoroughbreds. Among them were several retired racehorses from Team Thoroughbred which were retrained by a group of “at-risk” young people under the guidance of Patrick Herde from Ballyoch Horses. Over the course of four months, they re-educated ten Thoroughbreds in the basics of ground and ridden work, while building self-confidence and learning skills to help secure employment in the future. The Thoroughbreds were then offered for sale at an auction which saw more than 200 people from far and wide descend on Deepwater.

“The program and auction were hugely successful and it was very satisfying to see some of the Thoroughbreds involved making a smooth transition into the next phase of their lives,” Ballyoch Horses owner and Deepwater Polo Club President Patrick Herde said.

Hamish Webb, who lives in Uralla about 160km from Deepwater, purchased Tianshi, Mi Sassy and Deejay from the auction and all three participated in the clinic. Hamish grew up playing polocrosse and recently made the transition to polo. While his trio had been given some polo training at home, the Deepwater clinic was their first outing since the auction.

“All three were very quiet and well prepared so I was able to go straight into riding them with a mallet in my hand after I brought them home from the auction,” he said. “They are quick learners and eager to please. They all tried really hard at the clinic but Mi Sassy was the standout. She’s speedy and such a gutsy little mare. She isn’t afraid of anything.”

Former Rod Northam-trained racehorse Mi Sassy (bay) in action at Deepwater Polo Clinic.

Most of the 20 riders though had never picked up a polo mallet before but professional polo players Jock and Jen Mackay and Beau Blundell from Wirragulla Polo Club were on hand to show them the ropes. They spent the first day learning the rules and from the morning of day two it was on.

“I’m amazed at how quickly both the players and horses picked up the game,” Patrick said. “We ended up playing some really good polo and it was so much fun. Everyone needs a hobby, something to take them away from the pressures of work or the farm and I love the way horses can do that.”

Deepwater Polo Club has purchased a small amount of equipment and is currently building a polo field in the middle of Deepwater Racecourse. They plan to host tournaments there in the future and already have strong support from the wider community. Many have expressed a desire to get involved which will not only benefit the town but also provide more opportunities for off the track Thoroughbreds to find new homes playing polo.

“To see the effort Deepwater Polo Club was putting in to create something new was inspiring and I had to be part of it,” Hamish said.

Veterans Riding To Recovery On Retired Racehorses

When Max Streeter floated the idea of teaching veterans how to ride, train and care for off the track Thoroughbreds in just eight months, many people said it couldn’t be done. Some laughed. The more polite ones smiled gently and wished him luck.

The veterans spent hundreds of hours practising their drill to ensure safety on the trail ride.

Undeterred, Max approached Racing NSW and RSL LifeCare with his pitch, the executives decided to give it a chance, and now the first round of participants in the Spur equine therapy program are celebrating their graduation.

Racing NSW has long been involved in providing horse handling courses for veterans and first responders with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other mental health issues. The benefits of equine therapy are well documented and Max himself can attest to its effectiveness. As a former soldier and Federal Police Officer, he had participated in several short courses but felt there was something missing.

“I spoke to my fellow veterans who had also done introductory horse handling courses and most wanted to learn to ride,” Max said. “They didn’t have aspirations to be great horseman, just competent and safe, and they wanted to trail ride through an iconic landscape. I thought the Snowy Mountains was the perfect place and setting a goal of riding through Kosciuszko National Park at the end of the course would be a great motivator for veterans.”

When expressions of interest for the inaugural Spur equine therapy course opened, Max was flooded with applications from people wanting to be part of it. He spent weeks considering every hopeful and eventually settled on a group of eight men and women ranging from 21 to 60 who had given 147 years of service between them.

Course Manager Max Streeter.

In March, 10 retired racehorses from Racing NSW’s equine welfare department, Team Thoroughbred NSW, arrived at RSL LifeCare’s 300-acre facility at Picton. Former Petty Officer Leanne Hinton recalls the day. “We were told to go out into the wide open paddock and bring back a horse,” she said. “I thought it was a joke and we didn’t have a chance but we did eventually manage to catch a few. It certainly brought the group together quickly.”

Over the eight months that followed the group was given expert tuition, led by renowned stunt man and former Army Sergeant Andy Clark. They learned the basics of horse care including feeding, grooming, picking hooves and rugging. They learned to tack up a horse which was an achievement because most of the course participants didn’t even know how to put on a headcollar when they arrived. They learned to lead, lunge and join up. They spent three months perfecting their groundwork before they were allowed to even think about throwing a leg over their horse which was frustrating at times but essential to ensure the safety of both horses and humans.

“I’ll never forget the first time I stepped up on the block and climbed onto Sahara Strike’s back,” Leanne said, grinning from ear to ear. “It was equal parts thrilling and terrifying. Here I was sitting on this giant retired racehorse trusting him to do what I ask and him trusting me to lead the way. When I think about it, it was the first time I had really pushed myself since my discharge. I was previously very confident but that had slipped away.”

Spur participants saw some incredible scenery on their graduation trail ride through Kosciuszko National Park.

Officially the Spur program ran two days per week but most of the participants were so eager to spend time with the horses they volunteered daily. With the impending Kosciuszko trail ride front of mind, they rode whenever they could and by August they were cruising out of the round yards and around the property.

“It’s truly been amazing to watch the changes in the veterans as the course progressed,” Max said. “Some of them were very withdrawn when they started and you see them today and they are excited, they’re pumped and they’re confident.”

“It was rewarding to see the horses increasingly do what we asked of them,” Leanne said. “Some were only a matter of months off the track. Like us, they have good and bad days but we learn off each other.”

By the end of October the Spur participants were ready to put everything they had learned into practice in one final test of courage, initiative and teamwork. Before the sun rose, two horse trucks and a float were loaded up and took off down the Hume Highway towards Wares Yards Campground near Adaminaby. The participants were responsible for almost everything including designing and constructing pens to keep the horses in, providing feed and collecting water for them and of course cleaning up. They couldn’t wait to get out on the trails and Max was surprised by their stamina.

Leanne plans to adopt her horse, Sahara Strike.

“On the first day I was doubtful the veterans or the horses would be able to do more than a few hours of trekking but I was overjoyed to see them out for the full day,” he said. “They came back tired and sore but happy and ready to go the next day. It just goes to show veterans with a purpose can focus and achieve. A lot of good horse people said it was a big ask and doubted whether the Thoroughbreds would be ready in time, let alone veterans with no horse experience, but it was the greatest pleasure to prove them all wrong.”

“It was a bucket list experience,” Leanne said. “I loved moving through the different terrain and couldn’t believe how quickly it would change from marshy plains to dense White Gums to wild scrub. I enjoyed the chats around the campfire at night and came home with renewed faith in my own ability to handle life’s challenges.”

While the inaugural Spur program is finished for now and the new intake of participants won’t arrive until next year, the graduates are still actively caring for the retired racehorses they’ve been working with.

“I will continue to volunteer with Spur and will soon officially be adopting Sahara Strike,” Leanne said. “He brings me so much joy.”

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

Gai’s Million Dollar Horse Reason For Bianca’s Million Dollar Smile

When Bianca Argyros decided to adopt a retired racehorse earlier this year, she couldn’t have imagined the impact it would have on her life. She had just returned from a working holiday in the United States and getting back into riding was high on her “to do” list. Bianca’s friend told her about Team Thoroughbred, Racing NSW’s equine welfare and rehoming division, and she knew straight away that’s where she wanted to start her search.

“Team Thoroughbred NSW was an obvious choice because I felt like I would be giving a horse a second chance,” Bianca said. “I also knew Team Thoroughbred staff would be upfront about the horse’s history because matching the right horse with the right person is their priority.”

Ecuador is excelling in life after racing with Bianca. Credit – AY Art & Photography

Bianca filled out the expression of interest form and went to Princes Farm to meet two horses chosen for her. She rode and liked both but wasn’t convinced either was her ideal match. It was then she was told about former Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott-trained galloper Ecuador, a recently retired winner of more than $1.1million prizemoney with a gentle temperament and nice movement. The next day she jumped in the car and made the five-hour drive to Cassie Schmidt’s property at Redbank near Port Macquarie where Ecuador was being retrained for life after racing.

“As soon as I laid eyes on him I knew he was the one,” Bianca gushed. “He was already saddled up when I arrived and the minute I got on I felt a sense of trust in him. Cassie was guiding me through the first ride and the minute I got off I bought him.”

Once Bianca got Ecuador back home she put him into work six days per week. She started with flatwork to make sure he was safe then progressed to pole and grid work before they started jumping. In just under two months they were ready for their first dressage competition together at Como.

As a racehorse Ecuador notched 10 wins and retired with more that $1.1million in prizemoney. Credit – Bradley Photos.

“We placed third in Prep E which is basic but he was so well behaved and calm on the day,” Bianca said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better performance.”

The day was made extra special for Bianca by a couple of surprise guests in the audience.

“In the days before the competition I was contacted by Ecuador’s previous owners Bob and Robyn Winney,” she said. “The came along to support us on the day and showed me some memorabilia from Ec’s racing days. It was a beautiful moment, strangers united by the love for this one special horse.”

Since then Bianca has continued Ecuador’s education, gradually stepping up the complexity of his training each week.

“I don’t take it too seriously,” she said. “I just want to see regular improvement and enjoy him. Initially, I was a little bit intimidated by his sheer power but now I am confident in how to use it for us.”

Ecuador and Bianca have a lovely bond.

Their strengthening relationship is evident on social media. Videos of them galloping along the sand at Kurnell Beach and cuddling in the stables inspire other young equestriennes dreaming of doing the same. They even featured in a story on page 3 of The Daily Telegraph to promote the Sydney Spring Carnival.

“That was amazing! It was such a fairy tale to be able to ride along the beach with my beautiful horse and work with such a talented photographer. It was something I will never forget. Since that article was published I have met so many other people connected to Ecuador including stablehands and strappers who cared for him. It’s been an incredible experience. He’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me!

Until the end of November, Bianca is fundraising for Team Thoroughbred NSW. She has set up a Go Fund Me page and is encouraging people to donate to care for retired racehorses and help them find loving homes.

“It’s a small way I can give back to a wonderful organisation which has given so much to me.”

Click the link below to donate to Bianca’s fundraiser. 

Follow Bianca on instagram @bianca.argyros

Former Stablemates Set For Different Kosciuszko Climbs

While the inaugural winner of The Kosciuszko, Belflyer, has his sights set on defending his title on Saturday, a former John Shelton stablemate owned by the same people is gearing up for a Kosciuszko challenge of his own.

Better Be Good raced in the same green and brown chequered silks made famous by Belflyer, notching three wins and six places before retiring in late 2018. He then came into Racing NSW’s rehoming program and began training for his next career. His sweet and gentle temperament made him ideal for the Spur equine therapy program, which culminates in a five-day trail ride through Kosciuszko National Park next week.

The Spur program is a partnership between Racing NSW and RSL LifeCare which sees veterans and former emergency service personnel with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder learn horse care and riding to reduce stress and promote enjoyment. It began in March and most of the participants had no prior experience with horses.

Brad and Better Be Good.

Better Be Good was matched with former sailor Brad Golder, a kind and softly-spoken man with a natural affinity with animals. Brad joined the Navy straight from school and served for close to two decades but like too many others, when it came time to discharge he struggled to adjust to civilian life.

“I became depressed, turned to the bottle and drank too much,” Brad said. “I was unable to secure a job and ended up in a rehab centre.”

Brad eventually went to live with other veterans in RSL LifeCare’s Homes For Heroes program. It was there he was introduced to equine therapy. Brad was initially scared of horses but others in the group would go up to the horses with him until he was confident enough to pat them by himself.

In early 2019 Brad was asked if he would like to apply for the Spur equine therapy program and eagerly filled out the forms. He was delighted when he was accepted into the program but was equally nervous when he arrived for Day 1 at RSL LifeCare’s Picton farm. He didn’t need to be though. His connection with Better Be Good was instant and Spur quickly became the highlight of his week.

“The camaraderie, the people around, how everyone helps each other,” Brad said, describing his favourite things about Spur. “We look after the horses and they look after us.”

Over the course of eight months the participants in the Spur program have been learning basic horse handling and care, ground work and riding. Officially the course runs on Thursdays and Saturdays but most participants volunteer their time more regularly.

“They’re here practically every day, whether they are feeding the horses, grooming them or just practising the exercises they have learned,” Course Manager Max Streeter said. “Some of them were very withdrawn when they started and you see them today and they are excited, they’re pumped and they’re confident.”

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

Brad is among those who have come the furthest and he credits Better Be Good for his newfound confidence.

“He’s amazing,” Brad said. “Everything he does is to protect me. I’ve got no fears of falling off him because I don’t think he’d let me! When I put my arms around his neck fumbling around with the halter he just stands there patiently. He can sense when I am feeling sad and he comforts me by putting his head on my shoulder.”

The Spur participants and their Thoroughbreds will embark on the ultimate challenge this Monday – a five-day trail through Kosciuszko National Park.

“We will be putting everything we have learned into practice,” Brad. “I’m really looking forward to it. This is the last thing I thought I would be doing 12 months ago and I never imagined I’d be able to ride out in the open but here we are. BBG will take care of me.”

Better Be Good’s former owner, Janet Hogan, was delighted to hear about his new career.

“We could not be happier that he is now working with people that he loves and more importantly he is with people who love him back,” she said. “We are so happy that he is now in a position to help people change their lives and to give hope and happiness to those who struggled to find it. We feel rewarded that our horse was able to do this and while he was cut down in his prime he can still offer others many more years of happiness in his current role.”