The Penzas’ New Pastime

By Julieanne Horsman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kate’s Wingman Willing And Able

By Julieanne Horsman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Retired Racehorses Raising The Bar

By Julieanne Horsman

Australia’s highest-earning racehorse of all time, Winx may have had a limited-edition beer can produced in her honour, but Inverell class 1 winner Military Duke and five-start maiden Bold Rush can top that. The retired racehorses have their very own ale.

“Thoroughbred Mosaic India Pale Ale is our ode to these very special horses and I’m sure it’s going to be popular,” Deepwater Brewing Owner Isaac Zietek says.

Military Duke and Bold Rush, who are now affectionately known as Duke and Duchess, are much-loved members of the Zietek family. Isaac had always liked horses, but never had any of his own until he got talking to one of his regular customers, Patrick Herde. Patrick owns and operates Ballyoch Horses, a horse-breaking and training facility also located in Deepwater. He partners with Team Thoroughbred NSW and Backtrack Youth Works to retrain retired racehorses for new careers off the track.

Atticus loves riding and caring for his off the track Thoroughbred mare, Bold Rush.

“I thought my son Atticus might enjoy learning to ride so I took him to a clinic at Ballyoch,” Isaac said. “He absolutely loved it, so he continued with lessons.”

Like most eight-year-olds, Atticus has no fear and it wasn’t long before this brave little boy was fanging around the wide-open paddocks under the guidance of Ballyoch Trainer, Nora Eranpalo. With each lesson Dad Isaac felt the feeling of FOMO bubbling so he decided to join in.

“I hoped it would be a nice father and son bonding activity for us,” Isaac said. “I didn’t want to miss out on all the fun either!”

Isaac connected quickly with a lightly raced chestnut gelding named Military Duke and decided to take the exciting step of adopting him. They were willing to wait as long as necessary to find the perfect horse for Atticus and she came along a few months later in the form of a five-year-old mare named Bold Rush.

“She has been absolutely wonderful from the start,” Isaac said. “Being a young mare, I thought she would have a lot more go in her, but she is just so calm and gentle with Atticus. He loves Duke too and calls him his big giraffe. He just has to talk to either horse and they do what he asks. They will stand still while you saddle them up. They’re so comfortable with being handled.”

Once a week Nora, who hails from Finland and has showjumped competitively around the world, comes to the Zietek house to ride with the family and give lessons. Atticus has taken to jumping like a duck to water and Bold Rush has picked it up quickly too.

“Pat and Nora chose really well for us as first-time owners and to have that ongoing support makes the experience that much better,” Isaac said.

Isaac and Atticus spend as much time as possible riding around their property and are aiming to venture further afield as they get more confident. They’re limited by the Covid Lockdown now, but they don’t mind. They’re just happy to have the horses around.

Trail riding is the perfect father and son bonding activity for Isaac and Atticus.

“I love how affectionate the horses have become,” Isaac said. “They got to know us quickly and became very aware of where we are. If we are outside, the horses come straight over. They follow us around and put their heads on our shoulders. It’s really special.”

Both Duke and Duchess get their fair share of attention from visitors to Deepwater Brewing too. They are sometimes in the paddock next door to the brewery so customers can say hello and pat them over the fence.

“It was actually a customer who suggested we do a beer to honour the horses,” Isaac said. “We already had a beer dedicated to our dog and he said we should do one for the horses as well. How could we not. They bring us so much joy.”

Courtney’s Driven In A New Direction

By Julieanne Horsman

It was somewhere along the Hunter Expressway Courtney Van Der Werf pulled the pin on her career as a jockey. The one-time Hunter North West Apprentice Premiership winner had just returned from four weeks in America and had spent most of the morning sitting in a near-scalding bath, desperately trying to sweat off the evidence of an indulgent holiday. She still had another two hours of driving ahead of her just to get to Quirindi Racecourse and at that moment she made a life-changing decision.

“I just thought to myself I don’t want to do this anymore,” Courtney said. “So I turned around and that was that.”

With a Thoroughbred racehorse trainer for a grandfather, a trackwork rider for a mother and a trotting driver as a father, New Zealand-born Courtney was odds on to be bitten by the equine bug. She did all the things little horse-loving girls do including Pony Club and holiday equestrian camps and by the age of 15 she was riding trackwork before school.

“I thought it was great,” Courtney said. “I couldn’t believe I was getting paid to ride horses!”

At 16 she dropped out of school to begin her jockey apprenticeship with leading Canterbury trainer Michael Pitman. Her first race ride delivered her first win, with the young hoop piloting Kimberley Boy to victory at Riverton Turf Club during the 2010 Easter Carnival. From that day, the triumphs kept coming. Courtney booted home four winners on one day at Omakau in her first year of riding and was named runner up in the South Island Apprentice Jockey Premiership for 2010/11. She wanted more though so at the tender age of 18, this plucky pocket rocket packed her bags and headed across the ditch.

“I don’t know what I thought I was packing for, but I ended up getting slugged $600 in excess baggage!”

Courtney had already secured a job with then Scone trainer Greg Bennett, so she moved straight to the horse capital where she was welcomed with open arms.

“Greg and Wendy treated me like one of their own kids and the girls in the jockey room made it so easy to settle in,” Courtney says. “There was no homesickness.”

In her first year in Australia, Courtney took out the 2012/2013 Hunter North West Apprentice Jockey Premiership. After outriding her country claim, she was sent to David Payne at Rosehill Gardens for three months before transferring to Steven O’Dea’s Brisbane stables. She spent a year there before deciding to give her body a break and focus on trackwork riding. After another two years, Courtney returned to Sydney to continue trackwork at Snowden Racing’s Randwick stables, before resuming her jockey apprenticeship. She completed the last few months of her apprenticeship at Lee Curtis’ Rosehill stables because of the flexibility offered to her.

“If I was riding in races in the country, I could stay out there and not have to rush back to Sydney for trackwork the next morning and then back out to a country racetrack again the next day,” Courtney said.

Courtney rode in her final race as an apprentice at Scone on Dec 15, 2017 and was legged aboard as a senior jockey for the first time three days later at Narromine. The tracks are more than three hours apart and represent what Courtney found hardest about being a jockey clawing their way up the ranks – the extensive travel.

“Being a jockey is both physically and mentally challenging,” Courtney said. “You really have to want it because if your heart isn’t in it, it’s a miserable job.”

Courtney persisted for another 14.5 months before taking a much-needed holiday to the United States. When she came home and tried to return to jockeying, she realised it was no longer the dream she had once chased so fiercely. Her passion for trackwork was stronger than ever though so she took a job at Hawkes Racing at Rosehill Gardens and has only glanced back a handful of times.

“At the time I thought I was just having a break but the hunger to be a jockey isn’t there anymore,” Courtney said. “Every now and again I miss the adrenalin rush, but I don’t think about it all the time.”

The dramatic reduction in travel afforded Courtney more time to spend on her other passion – retraining her retired racehorses as showjumpers. First was former Stephen Farley-trained gelding Mr Smart – a horse Courtney had ridden in five races.

“I loved him from the day I met him and asked the Farleys if I could have him once he retired from racing,” she said.

Next was Mediterranean. Courtney had worked with him when he was an unnamed yearling at Snowden Racing.

Courtney and Mediterranean setting the bar high at Stonewall Showjumping Championships. Credit – Geosnapshot

“I had my eye on him since he was a baby,” Courtney said. “From the start he was miles ahead of the horses in the stable. He was so intelligent and level-headed. I rode him in trackwork until he went to Matthew Dunn’s Murwillumbah stable. I picked him up the day after his last race in a TAB Highway at Randwick in October 2018.”

Courtney has since gifted Mr Smart to one of her best friends, Charlotte Jenner, so she can focus on continuing Mediterranean’s education. They are now competing in 1.15m showjumping rounds and schooling 1.20m

Courtney is helping prepare retired racehorses for life off the track as a retrainer/rider at Team Thoroughbred NSW.

“He has picked up his new job so quickly,” Courtney said. “He is very careful and puts so much effort in. He rarely knocks a rail. Every day is a good day with him, and he never disappoints me.”

Courtney has also recently taken on a second job as a rider and retrainer for Team Thoroughbred NSW, Racing NSW’s equine welfare and rehoming division. Based at Bart’s Farm (formerly Princes Farm) Courtney first works with the horses on the ground doing flatwork, lunging and long reining before beginning their education under saddle. She also helps with veterinary treatments and other jobs around the farm including feeding the horses.

“The day I first walked into Bart’s Farm I was blown away but how beautiful it is,” Courtney said. “I love putting new arrivals into the big paddocks and watching them run around enjoying their freedom. I am passionate about rehoming Thoroughbreds after racing and making the most of their athletic ability, and while you do get attached to the horses, it’s satisfying to see them go off to their new homes and careers. I am proud to be a part of that.”

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

Blixam’s Found Her True Calling With Bella

By Julieanne Horsman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Retired Racehorses Keeping Light Horse Legend Alive

By Julieanne Horsman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Nations Youths Get Leg Up Into Horse Racing Industry

By Julieanne Horsman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Clapper’s Homecoming

By Julieanne Horsman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Julieanne Horsman

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

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

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

Abbey, Mo Good and Dishy Lulu.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abbey also still has Dishy LuLu and her childhood pony.

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

OAR Propelling Retired Racehorses Into New Careers

By Julieanne Horsman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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