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Life After Racing: A slice of Pie

Quirky, intelligent and kind, ex-racehorse Pie quickly won over TARA MADGWICK and her family.

As a horse obsessed teenager, who dreamed of a career in racing, I found a mentor in respected South Coast trainer Bede Murray, whose Conjola racing stables were a short 10 minute drive from our farm.

He gave me my first job at 16 and taught me most of what I know about handling and riding racehorses, before setting me on the path to work for some of the best trainers in the country. Those formative years working in stables gave me the grounding to forge a successful career in bloodstock media and I can thank Bede Murray for that. So, when he rang me in 2015 about a horse, I was quick to take the call.

Bede was battling cancer and cutting back his horse numbers: “I’ve got the perfect horse for your kids. He’s New Zealand bred, jumper’s pedigree they tell me, and all those jump trainers down south are after him, but I’ve told them he’s for you.” My twins were 12 at the time and my first thought was that I needed a fresh off the track horse for them like a hole in the head, but I wanted to catch up with Bede so went for a look.

Piazza San Pietro was a seven-year-old gelding by champion sire Pins (who had been a handy stayer) but he had not raced for a year courtesy of a bowed tendon. He’d spent a long, wet winter in a paddock with no rug, so pretty he was not. There were spellers in the paddocks galloping around and a stiff breeze, but the raggedy brown gelding jogged off quietly for me with a spring in his step and cantered up the hill with a long floating stride and arched neck – he was a keeper!

We brought him home to Daybreak Farm the next day and I told my daughter Jasmine that he was to be her new horse, to which she replied, “But Mum, he’s so ugly!” He had a name change as befitting a Thoroughbred to be ridden by a young girl and became Pie, a reference to National Velvet. Then we set about transforming our ugly duckling into a swan. I spent the early days riding Pie at home to assess his nature and reactions under pressure and it wasn’t long before I deemed him safe for Jasmine and she took over. Moving up from a 13hh pony to a 16hh horse can be a tricky transition, but she was quick to see the light, “Mum it’s like riding a cloud.”

With the late Bede Murray, Tara and Pie for their first ride in September 2015 (Image courtesy Tara Madgwick).

Pie is a horse of extremely high intelligence and as such he has a few quirks that come with it. His impatience and anxieties have led to some memorable tantrums, while his attitude to other horses remains a source of constant amusement. He can undo any stable door or gate lock, remove any rug, slip out of any head collar or bridle, and if there is any place you don’t want him to go, that’s exactly where you’ll find him.

Training him to be a competition horse and adapt to the world of shows and gymkhanas had its challenges, but if you were on his back he has always been ‘perfect Pie’. Jasmine’s confidence had taken a battering from her previous pony, who was not averse to planting her on the ground, so she enjoyed swift progress on Pie as they learned the sport of show jumping together.

Pony Club and Interschools events came and went over the years as they forged a very successful partnership that ultimately led Jasmine up to the next level of the sport. Late last year, she decided to make the quantum leap and take a job with champion trainer Chris Waller, so in preparation for her departure Pie was enlisted to revisit his racehorse days. We put a racing pad on him and over a period of weeks Jasmine gradually got the hang of riding short and keeping her balance before having to produce those skills for real at Rosehill.

Jasmine and Pie quickly became a winning combination (Image courtesy Tara Madgwick).

He eventually found himself somewhat on the back burner at Daybreak Farm, but the advent of Thoroughbred Sport Horse jumping classes has been a game changer. Pie, whose competition name is Daybreak Del Pietro, has racked up multiple wins in these classes at major shows this year, ridden by both Jasmine and her twin brother Jack.

With his fifteenth birthday just gone, he is in the best condition of his life with hopefully many more years ahead of him in our care, and he will be looking to close out his year on a high with a trip to Stonewall Equestrian on Mangrove Mountain NSW for the inaugural Thoroughbred Sport Horse National Titles. The event covers a wide variety of equestrian pursuits for Thoroughbreds and will be run from 18 to 20 November. Save the date!

Entries for the Thoroughbred Sport Horse National Titles open on Monday 24 October, and close on Sunday 13 November.

Feature Image: Pie and Jasmine in action at Stonewall earlier this year (Image by Dianne K Smith Photography).