Former Stablemates Set For Different Kosciuszko Climbs

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

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

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

Brad and Better Be Good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Max Is Mad For Off The Track Thoroughbreds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Horses Come First In Isabel’s Mind

While Isabel Roach’s friends were heading off to Schoolies Week, the then eighteen-year-old was heading to the stables.

“Everyone I knew spent the money they had saved throughout the year on a holiday but I decided to buy myself a horse as a graduation present,” she said.

Isabel had leased an unraced Thoroughbred since she was fifteen but longed for a horse of her own and with the HSC done and dusted the time was right.

As a racehorse, Kreskin won on debut at Gosford. Credit: Bradley Photos.

“A friend of mine was studying animal science and had visited Racing NSW’s Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Trust when it was at Canterbury Park,” Isabel said. “She told me all about it and before I knew it, I was there.”

Isabel went there to choose a horse but former Kim Waugh-trained gelding Kreskin chose her.

“I walked in and he popped his head up to say hello,” she said. “I thought he was so cute and loved his personality straight away. It wasn’t long before I was filling out the forms to adopt him.”

Isabel initially wanted to do eventing with Kreskin but her coach was adamant she had to master the principles of dressage first. She fell in love with dressage and never looked back.

“We did our first dressage competition in the middle of 2016,” she said. “At the time I wasn’t sure he was 100% ready but I just wanted to get out there. We came 3rd and I was so proud of him.”

Fast forward to July this year and after hundreds of hours in the saddle Isabel and Kreskin had qualified for the Australian Youth Dressage National Championships.

Kreskin and Isabel in action at the Australian Youth Dressage National Championships.

“It took us about six months to qualify because we had to get four qualifying scores at state level competitions,” Isabel said. “It felt so good to be up there with the “big kids’’ on my off the track Thoroughbred.”

Isabel and Kreskin placed 10th in Australia in the Young Riders category.

“It was amazing to finish in the top 10 at an event where I was just happy to be there.”

After Nationals, Isabel was determined to consolidate Kreskin’s skills before stepping him up to a higher level. Happy with his progress, Isabel will ride Kreskin in the Elementary 3A and 3B classes at Clarendon on Saturday.

“I’m really hoping to score 62% or higher but it would be nice to finish in the top 10,” Isabel said.

It’s been an outstanding year for the pair, made even more impressive by the fact Isabel has juggled a double degree and two jobs. She spends every spare moment with Kreskin and it has paid off.

“He’s a beautiful and kind horse and certainly very trainable but he does get flustered sometimes so I have to keep our workout short and sweet to keep him focused,” Isabel said. “I think it’s important to know your horse’s limits, know how much he can take and not push him beyond it.”

Spurred On By The Love Of Horses

Shane Cheney dedicated 33 years of his life to his country as a member of the Australian Defence Force. He enlisted in the Navy straight out of school in 1987 and also served in the Army then the Air Force, completing deployments to the Persian Gulf, Papua New Guinea, East Timor (twice), Nias Island, Iraq (twice), and Afghanistan (twice.) By the time he hung up his hat earlier this year he had a shining service record and more medals than he could fit on his chest but it had taken a heavy toll. Like many defence personnel reaching the end of their careers Shane struggled to make the transition from Flight Sergeant to civilian.

“It was all I had ever known,” Shane said, a glint in his eye revealing his secret pain. “My marriage was breaking down at the same time. I felt like I was losing everything and couldn’t do anything to stop it.”

Former Flight Sergeant Shane Cheney has found a new purpose working with horses.

Shane sought help with veterans’ support organisations Soldier On and Open Arms which led him to a one day introduction to equine therapy course with RSL LifeCare at Picton. Despite having no prior experience with horses he enjoyed it so much he asked if he could volunteer there regularly.

“I didn’t feel pressured or enclosed while I was there,” Shane said. “I was out in the open in the sunshine with the horses. I found it very calming from the start.”

Soon after RSL LifeCare officially partnered with Racing NSW’s equine welfare division Team Thoroughbred NSW to deliver a pilot program which allowed veterans and first responders with PTSD to learn horse care, retraining and riding on retired racehorses and Thoroughbreds who never made the track. Shane was one of the first to apply and along with his friends Leanne and Nick was accepted into the program.

“I was elated,” Shane said. “It gave me something to look forward to, something to focus on, when everything else was falling apart.”

The course, named Spur as the participants will earn their spurs, began in March 2019 with a day of introductions. Course Manager Max Streeter explained what was expected and what would be taught. A truckload of Thoroughbreds from Racing NSW arrived a few days later.

“I live nearby so I was able to be there and help Max unload the horses,” Shane said. “It was my first proper experience handling horses and I tried to get to know them straight away.”

Shane fellow Spur participant Leanne on ANZAC Day 2019.

Since then the Spur participants have been learning everything they need to know from grooming to leading to ground work in the round yard and riding. Officially the course runs on Thursdays and Saturdays but most participants are there more regularly.

“It’s just so good to be around like-minded people,” Shane said. “It’s a place where you can be yourself and talk about your issues without being judged. You’re focusing on the horses and when you do that you’re not thinking about anything else. That’s your world. It’s changed me and opened my mind. I was in a depressive state when I started but Spur makes me get out of the house, be social and rebuild my confidence. The hardest bit is going home at the end of the day!”

As a senior NCO in the Air Force Shane developed leadership qualities that shine through at Spur. He encourages other participants and is always the first to lend a hand where it’s needed.

“Shane puts in the extra hours and can be relied upon to do those jobs that keep horses fit and healthy like cleaning yards, helping to check all the horses for condition and taking an active interest in each and every horse in the herd,” Course Manager Max Streeter said.

“The strengths, skills and qualities that many of our veterans possess often become buried under the weight of service related illness and injury. Regardless, those attributes are still present and come to the fore during this program. Shane is a good example. As Shane dedicated himself to his horse journey the weight lifted and the change was noticeable.”

Shane retraining retired racehorse Bogan Ben.

The Spur course will culminate in a four-day trek through Kosciuszko National Park in early November. Participants will ride their Thoroughbreds along the trails in one final test of courage, initiative and teamwork.

“I’m really looking forward to it although I’m sure I will have a sore bum by the end of it,” Shane said. “Max and I went down there before Winter to check it out and talk to some of the tour operators and the locals who were riding there. It’s a beautiful part of the world.”

At the conclusion of the Spur course Shane plans to stay involved with horses and the next intake of participants.

“It’s not just a short course where you spend a week with everyone then go home and forget them,” he said. “We’re building lifelong friendships here. I love being able to help other people and I’ve seen them grown and progress. I bring my daughter Scarlett down to see the horses. I feel like I’m part of something special.”

Hayley’s Crusade A Family Affair

They say blood is thicker than water but when Hayley Robl and her mum Elaine saddle up for the One Star event at Denman Horse Trials this weekend, family ties will be left in the float.

“Of course I’m going to try and beat her,” Hayley said with a cheeky smile.

At just 14 years of age Hayley has already shown great talent for riding. Born to jockey parents Peter and Elaine Robl, Hayley was on the back of a horse before she could walk.

Hayley and her Mum Elaine on their off the track thoroughbreds.

“One day when she was a toddler I turned my back for a second and she was off to the thoroughbred paddock,” Elaine said. “There was no stopping her back then and nothing has changed since!”

At age 8 Hayley followed her mum into eventing.

“I was doing a one day event at Christine Bates’ property at Wilberforce and Hayley was walking the course with me,” Elaine said. “She was looking around then turned to me and said Mum I think I can do this. I want to have a go.”

Hayley started doing clinics with Christine and became a member of the Hills District Pony Club. It wasn’t long before she was jumping 45cm courses and falling more in love with the sport with every ride. As Hayley’s skills increased so too did her need for a horse which she could take through the grades. Elaine was retraining an off the track thoroughbred named Jade Crusader which had been given to her by Warwick Farm trainer Bruce Cross. She’d put the horse over some jumps during his racing career in an effort to get the best out of him but after five starts and nothing better than 6th it was clear he wasn’t going to make it as a racehorse. Elaine made sure he was safe before letting Hayley have her first ride of him. At the time he was aged 4 and Hayley aged 10.

Hayley and her friend Scarlett competing in the OTTB Pairs event in Canberra this month.

“I was a little bit unsure at first but I got on and that was it,” Hayley said. “First we walked then trotted then cantered and he was great. I yelled out Mum I love him!”

From that moment Jade Crusader was Hayley’s. She renamed him Lucky Decision for competition and Elvis for around the stables and worked him at every opportunity. They won their first event together at Berrima Horse Trials and the ribbons kept coming.

“It’s been so much fun learning together and Elvis tries his heart out, even on the days when he thinks it’s all too hard,” Hayley said.

Last month Hayley and Elvis won their first One Star event at Gundagai. They finished second in the dressage and first in both the showjumping and cross country, coming out on top of the overall rankings. Mum Elaine, who also rides an off the track thoroughbred named Pirellone, finished 4th overall in the same class but she didn’t mind.

“If anyone was going to beat me I’m glad it was her,” Elaine said. “It was her shout for dinner on the way home that night!”

Hayley and retired racehorse Jade Crusader have formed a solid team.

While Elaine and Hayley will be up against each other again at Denman Horse Trials this weekend, the challenge of the course is what Hayley is focused on.

“The cross country will be especially hard as it’s very open and windy,” Hayley said. “I’m hoping for a top 5 finish. Top 3 would be even better. It’s a really fun event to go though and I am looking forward to a fun weekend away from any school work!

“I do feel lucky to have a horse and be able to go out and do so much with him. Living near the city, not many of my friends have horses. It’s great to have parents I can turn to when I need some direction and advice with the horses. I’m really grateful.”

After Denman Hayley will give Elvis a break before beginning preparations for the Australian Interschool Championships in October.

“My aim is to be schooling Two Star by the end of the year.”

Elaine’s Tower Of Strength Worth Waiting For

Whether they admit it or not trackwork riders always have a favourite horse and for Elaine Robl in late 2017 it was Pirellone. The then three-year-old gelding was a sweetheart, a nice mover and did everything with ease, but with a record of ten starts and not a single place Elaine knew his days as a racehorse were numbered. He’d already been moved from Gabby Englebrecht’s Sydney stables down to Robert and Luke Price’s establishment on the South Coast when owner Shane Duff from Mad About Racing asked Elaine if she wanted him in retirement.

Kathy O’Hara pilots Pirellone to his one and only win. Credit: Bradley Photos.

“I didn’t’ have to think about it,” Elaine said. “I thought he’d be suitable for eventing and I missed riding him. Shane told me that Pirellone was going to have one more start at Nowra so I offered to go down and pick him up straight from the track.”

On Monday 15th January 2018 Elaine hitched the float onto her car and set off for Shoalhaven City Turf Club. She watched as Pirellone was sent out a $14 chance in the 2200m BM55 Handicap on a heavy track and couldn’t believe her eyes when he bolted in by more than three lengths.

“I called Shane again and he said we can’t sack him now so I had to go home without him,” Elaine said with a laugh.

She didn’t have to wait too long to bring him home though. He put in another three lacklustre runs and was formally retired less than two months later after pulling up with cardiac arrhythmia at Kembla Grange.

Elaine and Pirellone are already competing in One Star eventing.

“I gave him a little break before I started training him,” Elaine said. “My friend Kathy (O’Hara) helped me set up some grids and little jumps. He’s very trainable and always tries his hardest once he understands what you’re asking him to do.”

Elaine and Pirellone’s first outing together was a dressage competition at Camden. They placed 5th in one of their tests but it was the way Pirellone handled himself that impressed Elaine the most.

“The weather was horrendous that day,” she said. “It was blowing a gale but he was so well behaved and he just handled it all. Shane came to watch him that day too.”

Since then Elaine and Pirellone have attended dozens of competitions and continued to improve each time. They’re already competing at One Star eventing and over the weekend they placed 3rd in the Young Horse 1.10m category at the Camden Winter Showjumping Festival.

Shane’s daughters Tahlia and Ashley have become Pirellone & Elaine’s cheer squad.

“He’s a super jumper,” Elaine said. “He jumps out of his skin.”

As a former jockey herself and the wife of jockey-turned-trainer Peter Robl, Elaine is committed to equine welfare and is proud to have been giving retired racehorses a new career for more than 20 years.

“I’ve always had horses off the track,” she said. “I love playing around with them and re-educating them. The Thoroughbred is naturally athletic and such a versatile breed. If you find the right one for the right person you can do anything.”

Finding a suitable home for each retired racehorse is a priority for Shane Duff too.

“We only buy one or two horses each year and they’re raced by close friends and family so they’re almost like a pet to us,” he said. “It’s great to know Pirellone is loved and stimulated in his new home. We get out to watch him whenever we can. My girls love him.”


Crafty Vixen Conquers Coona

Only a few months after driving more than 600kms to watch Winx’s fairy tale final race, 16-year-old Holly Turnbull wrote her own fairy tale when competing in the prestigious six-bar event at the North West Equestrian Expo otherwise known as ‘Coona’!

Holly & Crafty Vixen soaring at Coona. Photo credit: Lisa Gordon.

‘Coona’ is the largest interschool event in Australia and has been running for 25 years. The expo attracts an average of 600 riders and 700 horses each June to compete in various disciplines including showjumping, dressage, polocrosse, hacking and sporting. The competitors take on other school teams over the five days which concludes with a closing ceremony and overall points tally.

An accomplished polocrosse rider, Turnbull had no expectations of success when she entered the six-bar at Coona with her off-the-track thoroughbred Crafty Vixen – a 13-year-old mare bought for just $300 by her mother Rosie who’d seen her run last in a three-horse race at Coonamble years previously. While Rosie bought the mare as her own project and never intended for her daughter to take the mount, that changed a few years after they purchased her.

“After about three years in the paddock, I told mum I wanted to ride her and we just started from there,” Holly said. “Mum worked on her and I took her to Pony Camp and took her other places and she was good. I was about 11 when I started riding her. I love horses and they are my passion, so put me on anything and I’ll ride it.”

As a boarder at Calrossy Anglican School in Tamworth, Holly’s riding time with Crafty Vixen was limited leading into Coona and she relied on her mother doing flatwork with the mare back home in Quambone. While they knew she was a good jumper, they had no idea just how successful she would be when they entered the class.

Holly is all smiles after her impressive win.

“I haven’t jumped her since last year,” Holly said. “She’s only been in for about three weeks’ work; my mum did flat work while I was away at school and that was it. I had no expectations at all. I thought I was going to be out at 1m because that was all I’ve ever done on her and then all of a sudden we were at 1.25m and then 1.35m. I thought we’d knock at 1.35m so I thought I’d just ride it and see what we’d do. I just tried to do the best for my horse and when I went over the fence, everyone was cheering. It was crazy, it was an incredible feeling. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.”

Competing against more than 100 other riders, Holly and Crafty Vixen were the only pair to go clear through all five rounds with the fence in the final round set at 1.35m. Their victory came just a month and a half after Holly found plenty of inspiration watching Winx run in her final race, a victory she won’t soon forget.

“We drove nearly seven hours from Quambone to Sydney to watch Winx,” she said. “I was with my mum and dad and one of my sisters flew down from the Gold Coast; it was my first time at Randwick and the atmosphere was crazy. It is an amazing complex and it was an experience I will never forget. I used to always want to be a jockey when I was younger and I’m even more motivated after watching that.”

While Holly plans on studying Psychology at university, she is currently toying with the thought of spending her gap year in the racing industry.

Man About Town Jumping For Joy

Mr Manhattan was the type of racehorse anyone would love to own. He won six of his 16 starts and rarely finished outside the top three. He was easy to handle, adored by Joe Pride’s Warwick Farm stable staff and loved a treat and a cuddle when his owners came to visit.

Disappointingly, Mr Manhattan’s racing career was cut short by a condition known as Chondritis. As it worsened it affected his breathing and his form deteriorated. The decision was made to retire him straight away and he was sent to Limitless Lodge at Wyong for a well-earned rest.

Mr Manhattan salutes at Warwick Farm. Credit: Bradley Photos.

Not far up the road in Kulnura 26-year-old Mitch Carraro and girlfriend Anna Stenberg operate their equine feed and hay store, Storm Park Produce. Both are talented showjumpers who have trained off the track thoroughbreds so Limitless Lodge’s foreman decided to give them the first offer of Mr Manhattan. With several horses already in their care, they didn’t really want or need another but agreed to go and see him anyway. When they got there, they changed their minds.

“We’ve got a lot of racing clients as well as spelling farms and pre-trainers so we get offered retired racehorses fairly regularly,” Mitch said. “We’ve had about 10 thoroughbreds so far and they’ve all been great. Really athletic and willing. Mr Manhattan was a nice type and walked well so we decided to take him home.”

Mitch and Anna gave Mr Manhattan a month off to let down before attempting anything with him. Anna was too busy with her horses so Mr Manhattan became Mitch’s new project.

Mr Manhattan & Mitch in full flight at the Aquis Champions Tour. Credit: Oz Shotz.

“We decided to see if he could jump and he showed ability straight away,” Mitch said. “I took him to his first competition at Tamworth Show in late 2017 and he went well. There was a lot for him to look at but he behaved himself.”

Since then Mitch has enjoyed taking Mr Manhattan through his grades and didn’t take long before he was jumping 1m.

“We only planned to compete him up to 1m but he showed talent so we started trying him over 1.05m and 1.10m at home,” Mitch said. “The bigger the jumps got, the harder he tried.”

Last month Mr Manhattan and Mitch finished just outside the top 20 in the Group 2 1.10m Thoroughbred Championship at the Aquis Champions Tour on the Gold Coast. It was the biggest competition they had entered together. This weekend they will step up to 1.15m for the first time at the Camden Winter Showjumping Festival.

“It’s all just a bit of fun for us,” Mitch said. “We don’t set out to win, I’d be happy to jump a few clear rounds and have fun. I enjoy the whole process of preparing a horse and it’s satisfying to see how far Mr Manhattan has come. There are no concrete plans for him. We’ll just make sure he keeps his confidence.”

As for the chondritis, it hasn’t affected Mr Manhattan’s showjumping ability or given him any trouble.

“It definitely hasn’t held him back since we’ve had him,” Mitch said. “He’s a real cool dude with plenty of character. He loves attention and lets us know if we’re not giving him enough.”

Retired Racehorses Helping Troubled Teens Get Back On Track

When renowned horseman Patrick Herde walked into Burton’s Saddlery in early 2018, as he had done hundreds of times before, he had no inkling this particular visit would set him on the path for his greatest and most rewarding challenge yet. As he wandered around the shop in the heart of Armidale he struck up a conversation with owner Lee Burton who told him about BackTrack. Lee’s son Paul Dawson was working with the unique not-for-profit organisation which helps the most troubled youths get back on the straight and narrow and raved about its positive impact. Patrick looked up BackTrack online when he got home and knew he wanted to get involved too.

One of the key elements of BackTrack is the Paws Up program where participants learn to train working dogs for shows. It promotes self-control and leadership and as the current Australian champions it has given the kids a sense of accomplishment they’ve never experienced before. Having seen first-hand the emotional and psychological benefits of working with horses, Patrick came up with an ambitious plan to adapt the dog program for ex-racehorses. He approached BackTrack and Racing NSW’s equine welfare division Team Thoroughbred NSW with his pitch and in early 2019 it was given the green light.

Ten retired racehorses from Team Thoroughbred NSW’s rehoming program were delivered to Patrick’s Deepwater property, Ballyoch Horses. Some had managed to win races, others hadn’t even made the trials, but they had all been assessed as retrainable for careers after racing. Once a week Paul Dawson from BackTrack would drive half a dozen kids the 140km from Armidale to Patrick’s place so they could help with the retraining process and in turn learn invaluable skills, form friendships and build confidence.

“Firstly, we made sure the horses were safe and once we were confident of that we started teaching the boys and girls the basics,” Patrick said. “It wasn’t long before we had bums in saddles and could ride up into the hills for a picnic and campfire lunch. I was blown away by how far the kids came in the first month alone. The horse mirrors what you are feeling so you have to control your emotions. The kids became very aware of the energy they were putting out. You would see them get angry or frustrated then realise it was affecting their horse and change their attitude.”

Patrick, Paul and two BackTrack participants enjoying a trail ride.

Some of the boys have shown such a great aptitude for horsemanship, Patrick has employed them to work at his farm. The older ones stay there during the week and go back to Armidale for TAFE.

“We are teaching them a range of horsemanship and general farm skills which will make them more employable in the future,” Patrick said. “I want to see these kids chasing their dreams and being proud of themselves. We’re certainly proud of them.”

With the first group of horses now trained up for stock work and trail riding, they are ready to be sold so new horses can come into the program. An auction and open day will be held at Ballyoch Horses on Saturday, 1st June 2019. Inspections begin at 8:30am and the kids will be parading the horses from 10:30am with the auction to be completed after lunch. People can absentee bid by contacting Ballyoch Horses. 100% of the sale price of each horse will be donated to BackTrack. There will also be working dog demonstrations, plenty of catering and taste testing of Deepwater Brewing Co’s ales.

It’s not just the BackTrack participants and horses who are benefiting for the program. The local community is too. Patrick has sourced all his building materials and feed from the region and uses local service providers including vets and farriers. They’ve also formed a polo club and are fundraising to build a field in the middle of Deepwater Racecourse.

“It’s a win win win situation,” he said. “None of us really knew what it was going to look like but we’ve all been determined to make it work for everyone. We’re looking forward to the next group of horses arriving and welcoming more BackTrack kids to the program. My goal is to create more permanent jobs for BackTrack graduates on our farm.”

Click here to find out more about the Ballyoch Horses/BackTrack Horse Sale & Open Day. 

Ballyoch/BackTrack Trained Horses For Sale

Ballyoch Tianshi

Ballyoch Noah’s Secret 

Ballyoch Star Veeda

Ballyoch Sweet Dynasty

Ballyoch Chief 

Ballyoch D’Jay

Ballyoch Mi Sassy

Ballyoch Appleberry

Ballyoch Donna Riccio 

Ballyoch Moringa’s Stroller 


Angel Rises From An Unexpected Place

Abandoned in a dry paddock at Yass with more than 50 other horses. Raise An Angel found herself 350km and a world away from her previous home. The little grey mare had spent her entire two-year racing career at Phil Sweeney’s Jerilderie stables. She was no star but always tried her best and was loved and cared for like a pet. Both of Phil’s jockey daughters Brooke and Sally Sweeney rode her in races and Sally even saluted on her at Moulamein. They doted on her until she was retired and sold.

Sally Sweeney pilots Raise An Angel to victory at Moulamein Races in 2015.

Raise An Angel was set to be exported to race overseas but when the red tape became too much, her new international owner threw his hands up, walked away and stopped paying the agistment bills. With mounting costs in drought conditions, the agistment property manager tried desperately to rehome the horses before Racing NSW stepped in and rescued them. They were split between Racing NSW’s facilities at Taree and Muswellbrook where they were able to rest, gain weight and get healthy again. Raise An Angel, then five, went to Muswellbrook and eventually begun retraining for life after racing.

Meanwhile in Sydney passionate equestrienne and children’s riding coach Jessica Bott, wife of Randwick trainer Adrian Bott, was looking for her next showjumping horse. Having grown up riding off the track Thoroughbreds in the U.S., they remained her breed of choice. She had heard from her friend Karen Day, Racing NSW’s Equine Welfare General Manager, about the variety of Thoroughbreds available for rehoming through Racing NSW’s programs so she made an appointment, hooked up the float and headed up the highway to Muswellbrook.

Raise An Angel receives plenty of love from Jessica.

“I didn’t think I’d need the float but ended up coming home with not one but three horses,” Jessica said. “My close friends Bernie O’Regan and Emily Inwood made the trip up with me and also bought into the horses. Raise An Angel wasn’t my first choice but Bernie thought she had a lot of scope. She had a fluid movement and was brave over jumps and Bernie wouldn’t let us leave without her!”

Once home, Jessica’s plan to prepare Raise An Angel for showjumping hit a stumbling block. The mare was hot and fizzy on the ground and fired-up on the lunge. With the guidance of friends and more senior coaches Jessica persisted, and within a couple of months Raise An Angel was a different horse.

“I sat on her and she felt so different to how she looked,” Jessica said. “I took her trail riding and just enjoyed spending time with her. She was more like a therapy horse for me. My training of her was sporadic due to work commitments and supporting Adrian but she impressed me beyond her years.”

Jessica Started having lessons with Alison Rowland and Sarah McMillan. Sarah’s partner Nelson Smyth rode Raise An Angel when Jessica couldn’t to help with the retraining process. With each session, the little grey mare showed more and more talent for showjumping. They had their first outing together at Sydney Jump Club where they jumped clear. One of Jessica’s teenage students, Sophie Hatch – a top junior showjumper, then took Raise An Angel to Interschools where she performed well again. Jessica continued competing on Raise An Angel, constantly impressed by the way she took each challenge in her stride.

Jessica on Raise An Angel and husband Adrian on Retrigger (also from Racing NSW’s rehoming program) enjoying a quiet ride.

“She is bold and brave and has a natural desire to jump a fence clean,” Jessica said. “She has never so much as thought about pulling up at a fence. As a breed Thoroughbreds are intelligent and eager to please.”

Earlier this month Jessica and Raise An Angel faced their greatest test – the Aquis Champions Tour on the Gold Coast. In the Group 2 1.10m Thoroughbred Championship they finished in the top 10 – an outstanding achievement for any horse, let alone one who had been found neglected in a paddock just 18 months before.

“She is phenomenal,” Jessica said. “It just goes to show it’s worth taking a chance on a young horse and investing in quality coaching. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows and she does still have her quirks but we’ve turned a corner and I am so proud of her.”

When researching Raise An Angel’s breeding Jessica discovered the most astounding link to youth. Her grand sire, Fusaichi Pegasus, was the same sire as the life-changing gelding Jessica owned while studying at university in Kentucky.

Jessica and Raise An Angel shining at the Aquis Champions Tour. Credit: OzShotzPhotography

“Ramsey was a star and I used the money from selling him to come to Australia,” she said. “I have a lot to thank Fusaichi Pegasus for!”

For now Raise An Angel is enjoying a well-earned spell at Evergreen Stud in the Hunter Region and will be stepping up to 1.15m at the Camden Winter Showjumping Festival next month.

“I’m just aiming to be more competitive with her and enjoy the relationship we have,” Jessica said. “I trust her to get me from a to b safely and she’s impressing me all the time. She really is something special.”

Click here to see some of the retired racehorses available for rehoming now via Team Thoroughbred’s programs.