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Life After Racing: Beyond Racing

A passion for Thoroughbreds has helped shape Lou Abey’s life and career, writes RACHEL ROAN.

Lou Abey has always had a soft spot for Thoroughbreds. From a young age, she competed successfully in show jumping and eventing, and it was a “two-year-old that couldn’t canter and looked like he had stringhalt – not the pick of the bunch by far,” she laughs, that eventually took her to compete in Melbourne and inspired her love of an underdog. She now trains horses full time, and still delights in finding out what makes each horse tick.

In 2017 Abey Performance Horses, Lou’s training business, took off. “More and more people kept sending us horses,” she explains. “The lack of events when COVID hit was probably a silver lining because that’s when the business just boomed.”

It was at an Andrew Hoy clinic in 2019 when she reached a tipping point, recognising a need for more to be done for Thoroughbreds after racing. She applied for grants offered by Racing Victoria, and worked with nearly 50 horses in the first year.

Since establishing the charity, Beyond Racing, Lou and her team have prospered, expanding the facilities and improving the fences on her property. A $12,000 Racing Victoria capacity expansion grant to assist with the cost of wages has supported the business’ continued growth. Now with the help of one full time and two part time staff, Lou and her husband are able to ride an average of 20 horses per day between them. With 40 horses on the ground at any given time, Lou and the team have their work cut out. “Some are our own competition horses, but most of them are Thoroughbreds in different stages of training,” she says. From Darwin to Hong Kong, each horse arrives with their own unique needs. “We’re lucky to have a couple of big spelling paddocks. The horses from Hong Kong have basically lived inside, and they can arrive in a bit of a messy state. Physically and psychologically, they need longer to reset, while the horses from Darwin often struggle with the change in climate.”

Carefully assessing the needs of each horse is key to their retraining. Lou researches the horse’s history, speaking to past trainers and riders, and obtaining vet reports to help her understand what she’s dealing with. Spelling, bodywork, and a full soundness check follow, before the meticulous retraining process begins. Focussing on steadily building each horse’s strength, desensitising them, and exposing them to a variety of environments at local events and across the 1,250 acre property over approximately 12 weeks wouldn’t, Lou says, be possible without the support of Racing Victoria.

Lou has successfully retrained and competed her off the track horses to FEI level show jumping and eventing.

Beyond Racing has also been involved in Racing Victoria’s RESET Program from its inception. Now with a network of retrainers in Victoria, new career opportunities for most OTT Thoroughbreds (some that might otherwise have slipped through the cracks) are plentiful. “If a Thoroughbred needs a home, they’ll be listed on this page. The nicest ones often don’t make it that far. Retired sound four-year-olds with good temperaments get snapped up quickly and always find a home. But you also see the 15-year-olds that haven’t been ridden in 11 years, and if no one takes that horse within 30 days, they’ll be assessed to go into the RESET program,” Lou explains.

From there, the horse is vet checked and assigned to a trainer by Racing Victoria. “We’ve had eight of this type,” Lou tells me, “and we’ve had huge success. One is show jumping in Sydney, another is eventing with a young rider in Tasmania, and my most recently rehomed has gone to a girl locally for Pony Club.”

Many factors play into why these horses require a little more work to rehome. “They’re often not sought after because of their age or their history. Sometimes people simply haven’t taken good photos of them, or the horse is in paddock condition so is easily overlooked,” Lou explains. The cost involved with getting a horse sale-ready often outweighs any sale price received in return. “And that’s why the RESET program is terrific,” she adds. “It wouldn’t be viable if we had to self-fund. Some might need 15 to 20 weeks work which would be very costly.”

To date, Lou estimates nearly 100 horses have been retrained and rehomed under Beyond Racing. “We work really hard to get them into the right homes. We do our homework, talk to coaches, and assess the suitability of the home.” If any issues arise after selling, Lou gets to work troubleshooting. “So many end up in homes with teenage girls, and the best part about that is they keep in touch with regular video updates and photos. I’m like a proud mum,” she laughs.

For more information, visit Abey Performance Horses or call Lou on 0429 626 484