It’s probably fair to say that few horses are as misunderstood as the retired racehorse. Often labelled as difficult, anxious, and unpredictable, AMANDA MAC discovered that that’s a long way from the truth.
Over the months we’ve had some exciting glimpses into the great work being done around Australia to retrain and rehome off the track Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds – oftentimes with spectacular results.
And no less exciting are the success stories emerging from Off The Track NSW Inc (OTT NSW Inc). Located in Coffs Harbour, the organisation is run by a team of dedicated Thoroughbred enthusiasts under the guidance of committee president Cheryl Lantry.
Cheryl has had a life-long connection with the racing industry. Once a track trainer, she has retrained more OTT horses than she cares to remember. “Thoroughbreds are bold, intelligent, versatile, athletic horses, and our aim is to increase the number of owners prepared to take on an OTT racehorse,” she tells me. “The transition from racing to performance or pleasure horse can be extremely rewarding, and the end result can secure a life of care for the Thoroughbred post racing.”
Case in point is the story of OTT Baribo. Owned by OTT NSW Inc member Jolene Cole, Baribo’s previous career as a racehorse was, to put it mildly, less than stellar. But he hit his stride as an endurance horse when in 2019 the pair won the heavyweight division in Australia’s most prestigious endurance race, the Tom Quilty Gold Cup. So if you thought Arabians were the only poster pin-ups for endurance, better think again! Jolene says Baribo has remarkable stamina “an ability to recover and go all day … it’s an honour to own and ride him.” Looks like Baribo found his forever home.
Most horses retiring from racing are eminently suitable for a career in one of the many disciplines celebrated during OTT NSW Inc events. “Currently we stage show jumping, dressage, showing, rider and in hand classes,” Cheryl says. “We recently held our Championship show and there were numerous entries in each discipline, with competitors travelling from Canberra, Mudgee, Sydney, Tamworth and Tweed Heads.”
One of those competitors was Megan Perrin. Five years ago she began retraining Geron, an OTT retired from the track for being too slow. She saw him for sale on Facebook, and although not looking for a new horse, decided that if he hadn’t sold within 24 hours, he was meant for her. “So I bought an ex race horse sight unseen through Facebook!” she says. But fortunately, it was love at first sight. Very wisely, Megan began Geron’s education slowly, starting with a six month let down to give them time to develop a bond free of pressure.
Starting their show season in led classes only, Megan was rewarded with Supreme Led at their first show. However, although Geron proved to be very quiet in training, he was also lazy. “I could see why he never won a race,” Megan laughs.
During his first few months under saddle, Geron won the 2017 Queensland Show Horse Council Large Hack Rising Star, and has since won many champion hack classes, including Champion Ridden Thoroughbred at Toowoomba Royal, Grand Champion Off The Track NSW, and of course, Grand Champion Star of All Stars at OTT NSW Inc’s recent show.
For Megan, one of the best things about owning and retraining an OTT Thoroughbred is the family that comes with them – the stud manager, trainer, track work rider, even the person who foaled them down. “You don’t just get a horse, you get a family and a history. My journey with Geron has been the best thing that has ever happened to me. He’s my heart horse,” she says.
Another OTT NSW Inc member, Samantha Croft of Clark & Croft Bloodstock has a similarly interesting tale to tell about her OTT Arrow, a Thoroughbred that she had sold as a yearling. Thinking he would make a lovely hack, she followed his racing career and every time he ran an ordinary race, Samantha was quick to let his owner know she was interested in buying him back. When Arrow was eventually retired from racing at the end of 2016, she more than happily brought him home.
She remembers only getting in a few weeks of part-time training with Arrow before their first outing at the 2017 Inverell Show. While that proved to be a little early in Arrow’s new career to be successful, the pair had a lot of fun and their partnership blossomed. Samantha says Arrow’s show name is now Cupid’s Arrow, probably down to the fact that she’s “completely love struck” by her OTT protégé.
Thoroughbreds can be very versatile, one of the reasons that Samantha and Arrow were able to take out second place in the hack ring, followed by a second in show jumping at the OTT NSW Inc show. But away from the glamour of the show ring, Arrow’s home life includes mustering cattle, jumping logs, flat work and indulging in a few little quirks, one of which is shying enthusiastically at threats real and imagined. So to give him something else to think about, Samantha decided to teach him to jump. Not only did he love it, it turned out that he had a real talent. “Unfortunately he still can’t be lead back to his paddock without seeing monsters. But so be it, no one’s perfect!” she laughs. “He’s been a challenge at times, but I have never had intentions of selling him.”
Life on a busy property includes stock work, so from the very beginning Arrow had to learn to carry sheep, “much to his horror and mine as I’m trying to lift them up that high,” Samantha jokes. But he has some handy additional talents and can cut an escapee crossbred lamb from a mob better than the farm dogs or bike, so that’s become one of his jobs around the farm. That said, Samantha believes in cross training all her horses so they rarely get ridden in the same place, or always do the same thing, which keeps it fresh and fun for everyone.
While these and many other re-homing success stories are heart-warming, Cheryl makes the point that re-training an OTT Thoroughbred can sometimes be more complex than starting a young horse. “Taking a Thoroughbred horse off the track and giving it a new life and purpose will take you on a journey that’s extremely rewarding if you’re properly educated and prepared for the transition,” she explains.
In her considerable experience, starting slowly and giving the horse time to learn simple tasks and get accustomed to a variety of new situations, as well as having the patience to wait until they’re mentally and physically ready before progressing to the next level, can be a deciding factor in the horse’s future.
Trying to rush an OTT along can result in a horse that’s not properly prepared for its new life, and is instead confused and uncomfortable. “Worried horses that have been thrown in the deep end might result in them being labelled as a problem or unsuitable,” Cheryl says, “then the horse’s welfare and future can be at risk as the chance of them finding a new and secure forever home diminishes.”
But with care, patience and a pinch of love, you could very well discover your new heart horse.
Feature Image: Simone Bullock and Urrac (L), with Melinda Bullock and Stratums Express enjoyed the Fashions Off The Field (Image by Chris Miller Photography).
You can catch up with Off The Track NSW Inc at www.offthetracknsw.org.au and if you dream of giving an OTT Thoroughbred a new life, contact Cheryl and her team for more information.