Thoroughbred re training at School Creek Equestrian.

What a great intimate day of working with good people with their beautiful ex racehorses. An educated and focused audience had the opportunity to ask all of their questions and gain valuable advice on the retraining of their horses. I did my best to speak one on one with every attendee.  We worked with 5 different horses on the day ranging from one off the track who hadn’t been handled for 6 years through to a grand pre dressage/ A grade show jumper. A fantastic cross-section of horses and a spectacular environment at the glorious School Creek Equestrian Centre in Kangaroo Valley, no doubt one of the most beautiful locations in Australia.

A perfectly sized round yard sits in a wonderful natural amphitheatre of comfortable grass hills, perfect for a blanket or fold up chairs, to the right an immaculately groomed dressage arena bounded by   forest on three sides acting as wind breaks to create a still and tranquil riding area, to the left lush green drought proof paddocks with post and rail fences. This is where you want to keep your horse.

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I’m sure we have all heard the house building analogies, “If you build on sand, you can build a hut. If you build on solid foundation, you can build a sky scraper.” How true that is when we are working with horses. Every good instructor I have had has said the same thing. I have read it in every good book, I say it to every one of my students and at every clinic I run.

It’s interesting how we hear things said and think to ourselves, “Yeah that makes sense,” and then let the idea drift away until one day it comes back to smash us in the face. Then we say, “I remember so and so saying blah blah blah.”

Have I lost you yet? Are you thinking I’ve heard all of this before?

Often when faced with the realisation of the fact that they have neglected this basic, yet imperative principle, riders refuse to acknowledge their shortcomings. They try every kind of gadget, they blame backs, teeth, saddles, feet and use a million other excuses but eventually, if they are honest with themselves, they will have to draw the same conclusion: they didn’t build the foundation, they have built a house of cards that is destined to collapse at some stage.

Am I boring you?

Let me go over it again. Take some bricks and pile them one on top of the other and see how high you can make the pile. You may get to a metre and a half but eventually the pile will topple over. Start again, take the same bricks and build a base one-meter square. Cement those bricks together then build the next layer 950 cm square and cement it again. You can imagine you might build a tower several metres tall on your second attempt. Understandable that you failed on the first attempt, but you learnt and did better the next time. So if you are able to admit you made a mistake with your horse, you can go back to the beginning and start again, right? WRONG!!

The emotional, physical and mental damage done to your horse on your first uneducated, unthinking or rushed attempt can’t be completely undone. Yes, you can go back and try to re-educate him, you can build some of the muscles you neglected the first time around, but he will remember the point where he fell down before and will always be tense when he approaches that place.

Be it show jumping, dressage, cross country, racing or any other equestrian sport, there are certain foundations which cannot be neglected lest we pay the price of mediocrity.
Look at a dressage situation. Go to a local competition in the preliminary class and there will be 20 or 30 riders. Novice will have similar numbers, in the elementary tests there may be 10 on a good day, then in medium there are three and occasionally there will be two in the classes above. This is my experience in local competitions in Australia. It is very difficult to go past elementary without a solid foundation, this is where it all falls apart.

Occasionally horses fake their way forward but if you look, it is usually easy to see their shortcomings. I am seeing Grand Pre horses advertised in Europe for 200,000 Euro that only flex correctly in one direction.

Let’s say in your local dressage community there are 200 aspiring competitors. Some will never raise the courage to even get into the arena. There always seems to be one rider who has achieved the lofty heights of advanced or above – lets say one at Grand Pre, they have built the foundation and reaped the rewards. One in 200, that’s 0.05%. So let’s be generous and say less than 1% of riders are building a foundation to reach a serious level.

If you have ever had the wonderful experience of sitting on a horse with a real foundation you will know it, you will never forget it and you will always strive to achieve it.

Are you in that under 1% who are doing it correctly? I’m sorry to tell you, but I doubt it.

Great and safe product, what’s not to like.


A big shout out to bounce back fencing who have supplied materials for us to fence our new training arena and yards which are under construction at Cana farm. I love the product , it’s hard to imagine why you wouldn’t use it. It has the look of post and rail, is super easy to install, requires no maintenance and last much longer than timber. Not to mention it is safe for your horses. Every big stud knows how much damage young horses can do to themselves on post and rail no matter how careful you are.

Its great to have bounce back as a supporter of the thoroughbred rehabilitation trust. It’s a credit to them to put back into the industry on which they survive.

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The hermit and the horse.


Dee Teevee was nothing out of the ordinary, a typical entrant to our retraining program; a four year old bay gelding, 16 hands. He is so typical of the horses we are given. He had run in a few races, actually showed some promise but his owner was only interested in racing in the city and Dee Teevee was really only a country standard racehorse.


Bradley photography 

There are lots of horses that don’t make it in the city and end up on a downward spiral from owner to owner to provincial races then country then picnics and God knows where else. Luckily for Dee Teevee, his owner didn’t want this for him and handed him over to us at the Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Trust (TRT). He was an immature looking fella and it never ceases to amaze me what babies most of these horses are when they come to us at the end of their racing careers. This guy still hadn’t finished growing, lots of Thoroughbreds continue to grow into their fifth year. He was nothing to write home about, but he had a lovely, friendly temperament and he had not been ruined by his racing experience. In fact, I would say he had been well handled and had obviously interacted well with whoever had looked after him. He was a people-horse, he wanted to be with you. At the time Billy, as he came to be known, arrived at the TRT, we had just formed a partnership with Cana Farm at Orchard Hills in Sydney’s west. Jill, one of our volunteers, had introduced us to Cana as she volunteered there as well.

Cana is a fantastic place, it is a 40 hectare property where people who have, for some reason or other, been separated from society as we know it, come to enjoy the environment of farm life. They are made up of reformed drug addicts, recent releases from prison, long-term unemployed, homeless and people with mental disabilities. Daryl was one such person. Daryl had had a tough life. He grew up in western Sydney with his single mum and siblings. On Fridays, in a strange Fagonesque way, she would send the kids out to see what they could steal; it was part of the family income. No doubt Darryl’s childhood was nothing like yours or mine and eventually Daryl and his brother progressed to armed holdups, with Daryl developing a serious heroin addiction. At some stage, Daryl’s brother, who had been arrested for some other offence, rolled over to the police and handed them Darryl in return for a lighter sentence. Daryl did a long stint in jail. He had to go cold turkey from his heroin addiction whilst locked in Long Bay Correctional Centre.

Once Darryl was released, his faith in everyone was gone. Darryl retreated to a small flat where he became a hermit. For 14 years, Daryl associated with no one, only surfacing to walk the street and do what needed to be done between 2.00 am and 4.00 am daily. There was no meaningful relationship or even conversation with anyone for 14 years.

Somehow Daryl had ended up at Cana Farm, no one can remember how, but thankfully, somehow he did. Daryl was very prickly. He wasn’t at all eager to mingle, so largely kept to himself. Julie, who runs Cana Farm, remembers he didn’t speak to anyone for nearly 12 months. He referred to her as Miss, as is done in the prison system. Now Julie is not ‘Miss’, Julie is Julie, and every time Daryl called her ‘Miss’ he got a kiss – she was soon Julie.

Cana knows how to work with people like Daryl and he received the counseling and support that he so needed and was welcomed into the community. Cana is not a community as in people live there. They don’t. Community is a lot more than living in a group. It’s belonging to a group who don’t judge you, who care about you and are there to help when you need it. So Daryl was on his way back and he needed something to sink his teeth into. He dabbled in many of the activities that the Farm offers – agriculture, woodwork etc. and as the people from Cana unraveled Daryl’s past, it was revealed that he had had some involvement with horses as a kid. His uncle had trained harness racers and Daryl had done some work around the stables, nothing flash but it was one part of his life that he remembers fondly.

When the partnership between Cana and the TRT struck up, the people at Cana realised it would be a good opportunity for Daryl to take ownership of an important part of the daily operations. Daryl was given responsibly of feeding, watering and generally keeping an eye on the horses. Billy was one of the first to arrive. Billy had just come off the track, he had no social skills and was ostracised by the other horses. Daryl empathised with Billy, after all, he had done his time as a loner. Daryl gave Billy special attention and fed him separately so he didn’t have to fight for his food. Daryl took him out for hours at a time to graze on the lush green grass that grew outside the horse paddock. Billy was happy and so was Daryl and they formed a bond. Daryl began to communicate better with people as he was the horse guy and he told people what they could and couldn’t do with the horses. He had a responsibility and Billy had a protector and friend. For Billy, in his hostile new real horse world, Daryl was Billy’s Cana Farm.

I started to give Daryl some instruction on retraining horses and he relished the chance to work with Billy, to help him find a life after racing.

Billy grew from a gangly immature four year old into a very handsome, solid, confident, five year old. Daryl had handled him well and he responded beautifully to training. Daryl decided that Billy was ready to find a new home, he was too nice a horse to just sit in the paddock doing nothing and unfortunately he wouldn’t fit into Daryl’s flat. So the search for a new home began and Daryl continued to care for Billy, whilst we at the TRT began to school him up for his next career; there was no limit to his potential.

Daryl was now being paid to work at Cana Farm and he has also become involved in the woodworking program where they make furniture from recycled timber. Daryl was meaningfully employed.


Photo eddy furlong 

Billy’s education progressed well and Daryl took on something of a leader’s roll at Cana Farm, even assisting with mentoring one of the young guys. He was still prickly, but would now communicate well with all comers.

After some time, Billy’s training was completed and soon after, a young girl came to look at him as a future partner. Daryl had always had a view that Billy would be great for a young girl, so he approved. The young girl was a very tidy little rider and her mum supported her in her showing so it looked like the perfect match for Billy.

Unfortunately, as is common these days, the family had had a break up, mum was now looking after five kids, all very active in sports. Mum was flat out, the budget was tight so the four wheel drive and float had to be sold and trying to find money for Billy would be difficult. I could see that this would be a good home and more importantly, Daryl agreed.

Daryl was a bit confronting for people from the other side of the tracks, but he soon showed mum and daughter how much he loved the horse and gave them his approval.

                                                                     Photo eddy furlong

After a few visits the decision was made, Billy would go to his new home, Daryl was beaming, and there was definitely some sense of accomplishment from a fella who had had no sense of accomplishment in his life. Both Billy and Daryl were better for the experience.

Now there were financial issues. We sell our retrained horses for $5000 with the money made going back into the program. The potential new owners couldn’t come up with the funds immediately but asked if they could go on some sort of a payment plan. Unfortunately I don’t hold the purses strings and this is not something that I am able to facilitate.

I remembered how honourable and fair to the horse the previous owner, Alec Leopold, had been. He was always very keen to see Dee Teevee looked after and had even paid for his keep until a position came up at the TRT. So I decided to get in touch with him. I sent Alec an email in the hope that he might provide some assistance for Dee Teevee’s future and to Alec’s credit, he immediately came back and said he would cover the cost of Billy’s rehoming. Well, there were tears all around. Mum cried, the girl cried, even Daryl geared up a little. What a great gesture from a good man, if only all owners of racehorses showed this responsibility.
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Just before Billy left, Daryl got the chance to ride billy. He hadn’t had the joy of riding since he worked with his uncle 37 years previously. He was nervous to start, but by the end he was all smiles .
I will always remember the picture of Daryl sitting up there on his mate Billy; this job of mine is so much more than horses.


                                                               Photo jill Moore

Horses from courses UK tour.

Since the release of my book, Horses from Courses, last year, I have found myself much more involved in the retraining of people than ever before in conjunction with retraining of ex-racehorses. This is where the future of the OTTB (Off the track Thoroughbred) rests, in the hands of those willing to put the effort into assuring there is somewhere to go and something to do at the end of the horses’ racing careers.

On my recent trip to the UK, I was able to take part in an exchange of ideas with some of the longest serving and best known Thoroughbred retraining and rehoming programs in the world.
I visited the Godolphin Retraining Centre at Newmarket England, where I toured the facility and gave a somewhat impromptu demonstration of my Horses from Courses/TRT (Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Trust) training system.

Godolphin, from my experience, is the most responsible Thoroughbred racing and breeding organisation in the world. They do everything they can to ensure their horses are well looked after from birth to death.

The Godolphin Retraining Centre has 12 horses in work at any one time with a small paid staff, as do we at TRT, and like us, numerous invaluable volunteers.

Godolphin has knowledgeable and committed staff, as do all rehoming programs. Whilst there, I did some work with the staff and a couple of horses, introducing them to my simple systematic approach to retraining and as I always explain, I have invented nothing. All I have done is take a very effective and relevant training technique and put it into an order which by virtue of its simplistic step by step nature, makes retraining horses off the track simple, effective and efficient. You don’t take the next step until you have solidified the previous step.

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Godolphin fund the program at Newmarket and horses are virtually given away at the end of their training. Only a very well funded organisation, with a serious conscience, can and will do what Godolphin do for their horses.

Next stop was Lambourn, two hours drive south where I met with Di Arbothnot the CEO of ROR (Retraining of Racehorses). This organisation is committed to the cause with a strong focus on developing the perception in the less accepting UK market that Thoroughbreds can do well in the general equestrian world. ROR is privately funded through sponsorship and donations and they run competitions specifically for Thoroughbreds as well as training clinics for those interested in rehoming. Di introduced me to Grace Muir  at the HEROS (Homing Ex-Racehorses Organisation Scheme) organisation. HEROS retrain ex-racehorses and find them new homes. The horses from HEROS go out on a lease arrangement and are followed up throughout their lives after racing.

At Lambourn, I gave a full demonstration to the ROR and HEROS staff and it was very well received. The educated horse people of these organisations saw immediately the simplicity of my system and recognised its value for the retraining community.

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I have been invited back to do some training with their staff and run a clinic and demonstration for the general public. The horse I worked at Lambourn had been diagnosed with kissing spine. This seems to be the most recent catch phrase amongst the equine community in the UK. Put simply, horses who don’t carry themselves correctly, engaging their core and lifting up toward the carried weight, finish up with hollowed backs which in time can lead to the process of the spine compacting, thus causing discomfort and pain. I am, as was Grace at HEROS, a strong believer that correct riding and training can eliminate the oinset of kissing spine and go very far to rectifying the problem should it already exist. Had I not been told about the horse’s diagnosis, I would never have guessed, as when asked to hold himself correctly, there were no symptoms.

My final equine engagement was with the IHWT (Irish Horse Welfare Trust) at balcultry stables in Swords, just north of Dublin City. As with England, Ireland has a perception issue with the idea of using Thoroughbreds for purposes other than racing. Their rich equine heritage, spanning back thousands of years, has seen the development of horses for every purpose. The niches filled by Thoroughbreds in Australia are well serviced by several different types of purpose-bred animals. Along with developing an accepting OTTB market, IHWT recognise the need for training and support of those who are interested in taking a horse off the track.

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I presented a demonstration/clinic to a committed and focused audience. Working with one horse who had already had some work after racing, who exhibited the familiar traits of those we receive at the TRT, had already been started by those well-meaning, but maybe not quite as qualified as required, owners/riders. I often describe these horses as a handful of tangled fishing line; it can be difficult to unravel the tangles already created. The horse was very nice, as were his new owners and with commitment to what I showed on the day, they should finish with a good result.

The second horse was straight out of racing and presented a great opportunity to show the effectiveness of my training system. He was a dream and flowed along through the process without incident. It’s often embarrassing how simple the system can be and it was good that everyone knew I had never seen the horse before the clinic. They may have otherwise questioned whether I had spent several sessions with the horse tuning him to my methods.

Overall the tour was a great experience, I met very well meaning horse people I hope to work with in the future. I was made aware of the variations of circumstances facing the Thoroughbred rehoming communities in different countries. And I came away confident that my ‘Horses from Courses’ retraining system holds up very well on the international stage. It made me very proud of my staff and volunteers at the TRT. Thanks to all of you for your ongoing efforts.

Different strokes for different folks. Varying strategies for thoroughbred re homing organisations

On my recent trip to the UK, I was astounded to see variations in horse cultures from countries with a common ancestry. I would like to discuss specifically, the variations in relation to the perceptions of the Thoroughbred horse and how those perceptions and history influence the best practices for organisations committed to the welfare of horses at the conclusion of their racing careers.


Until  recently 95% of police horses in Australia were thoroughbred

In Australia, the Thoroughbred has always been recognised as a competitive equestrian and pleasure horse, as well as a supreme racing athlete. The Thoroughbred is a relatively new breed of horse, beginning its development only 400 years ago and has been in Australia for the country’s entire equestrian history. It is the foundation of the only recognised Australian breed, the Australian Stock Horse.


The all purpose Australian stock horse sports some of the best thoroughbred blood lines in the world

Up until only 20 years ago, Thoroughbreds were double registered as Stock Horses and Thoroughbreds. The Stock Horse foundation has some of the best racing blood in the world. When Australia burst onto the international equestrian scene, they did so on the Thoroughbred. Our second Olympic Games, brought us three equestrian medals; two gold and silver all on the backs of Thoroughbreds. image

The highly successful Australian olypic team from Rome 1960 all ride thoroughbred horses 

From that time forward, the Thoroughbred has been the backbone of Australian equestrianism. Up until recently, the Thoroughbred was trained to the highest level in dressage, show jumping and eventing. The introduction in any serious way of the European Warmblood and other foreign breeds is relatively new, occurring in the last 30 years or so.

A market for the Thoroughbred exists and always has. Some damage to the market has been done by the introduction of the foreign breeds, but largely, Australia appreciates and utilises the abilities of the Thoroughbred. The focus for the rehoming of Thoroughbreds in Australia needs to be education of riders, particularly those who have been influenced by the current fashion of the foreign breeds. Professional retraining of Thoroughbred horses, in numbers that can supply the hungry market and to a lesser extent, the renewed promotion of the Thoroughbred as a competition and leisure horse.

The UK has an historic and rich horse culture that goes way back before the advent of the Thoroughbred. In fact, in the 10,000 years of history of the UK, the Thoroughbred is a very new addition. Breeds have, over the millennia in the UK, been developed for specific purposes, such as, war horses, Draft breeds, riding breeds, carrying and carriage breeds.

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Purpose bred horses in the equestrian environment of the UK. Top left the Irish sport horse, top right Spanish breeds found there way into the UK with the Romans. Bottom right the ancient Cleveland bay developed as a load carrying horse.

The original English-bred horses were combined with an infusion of Arabian blood only recently, to develop the speed and stamina of the modern Thoroughbred. The Thoroughbred has not been needed for any specific purpose, other than racing.


Only in recent times were these three foundation stallions added to the equestrian landscape in order to develop the modern thoroughbred.

So in the UK, the Thoroughbred is a racehorse, the Irish sport horse is great for jumping, hunting and eventing, the European Warmbloods and Spanish breeds suit dressage, with various breeds of ponies and mixtures of the aforementioned breeds having served as pleasure horses. There has been no need to bring the Thoroughbred into the equation.

Now with large numbers of Thoroughbreds leaving the racing industry and with greater expectation of the population in relation to horse welfare, Thoroughbred rehoming organisations in the UK need to promote the use of the Thoroughbred in the various equestrian fields. Money is being spent promoting competitions featuring Thoroughbred classes and awards are given for Thoroughbreds excelling in open competition. This needs to be the main focus of this rehoming market, but it needs to happen in tandem with an educational focus giving potential Thoroughbred owners the tools and support needed to make the rehoming of these ex-racehorses an enjoyable experience.

So two surprisingly different market places. Australia with an existing market, requiring a focus on education and supply to the market and the UK still in the process of developing an accepted and viable market, but also with a requirement for education and support for that market.
I have been retraining Thoroughbreds for nearly 30 years and it wasn’t until I visited the UK recently with a focus on Thoroughbred rehoming, that I became aware of the acute differences in the horse cultures and the varying requirements in the field of Thoroughbred rehoming throughout the world.

Each market must be assessed and focused on the most relevant issues in its unique environment. There is no doubt that each market in each country with a thoroughbred industry will face its own challenges and must develop strategies to siut their particular needs.

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Education, training and support are esential elements of any thoroughbred re homing program . 

Largely, I think a three-pronged approach of establishing a market, producing a product and then developing an industry around the development of the product, is the way forward for the Thoroughbred racehorse. Rehoming industry, these three elements will be required in all environments but each in varying portions determined by the individual market places.

Personally, I am happy to be involved in such a worthy cause in a positive way, it’s disappointing to see some of the passionate anti-racing organisations wasting their energies in a negative way, rather than working positively to produce a better outcome for horses at the end of their racing careers.


Irish/Arabian hospitality

Today I present for the Irish horse welfare trust in swords just out of Dublin. The hospitality of the Irish has been fenominal. I have visited numerous studs trainers and horse facilities. The horse culture is rich, historical and varied. It’s a whole different ball game to down under. I will do everything I can to promote the fact that thoroughbreds can make it any field, traditionally they have not been the choice of most Irish riders largely because of the variety of purpose bred horses over here.


I have to thank the Godolphin/Darley organisation for what they have done for me while I have been away they are the pinical of professionalism in thoroughbred training and breeding, if everyone followed their lead in training and management the world would be a better place for horses. Of course it’s nice to have sheik Mahammad funding things but the reality is racing is a rich mans sport if you can’t afford to manage and treat horses correctly you shouldn’t be in the game.image

            Be. Our diggs at Godolphins Kildangan stud in Ireland 


godolphin Darley head and shoulders above the rest in breeding training and caring for thoroughbred horses 

Thoroughbred equine assisted therapy. A soldiers view



Working with horses is what I set out to do its amaizing where life takes us. I can’t tell you how much I love what I do. Changing lives while helping horses.

Therapy like no other

by Mel Baker

We felt so lost and betrayed with the core of our souls ripped by our duty to our Country, and yet amongst that common trauma we joined in unison in the lush grounds of Cedars in Kangaroo Valley NSW. Whether man or woman, Thoroughbred or Shire, our past traumas dissipated the moment our two hearts beat as one.

What a glorious 5 days we spent in the valley with our trainer Scott Brodie (NSW Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Trust). Our group was small and yet just perfect in balance with two former Army personnel, two Air Force and two Navy; three women and three men. Most have found themselves homeless after being medically discharged from their Service with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and it was here that Homes for Heroes through RSL Lifecare could give them a home and opportunities to re-enter civilian life. Along with Defence Care, Homes for Heroes was able to offer us engagement with the second Cedars Equine Program for Veterans to improve communication skills and boost our confidence.

The first thing we learned was that being with a horse is not about riding it; in fact, riding a horse is like riding a motorbike without having a lesson. One does not learn the subtleties of applying pressure and leading the horse towards our slightest inclinations along a horse trail! Instead, training and leading on the ground with two former race horses, that has been traumatised from their own experiences, caused us to recognise our strengths and weaknesses moving beyond our limitations. The steps we learned drew us in to see that we could speak a new language, draw the horse in and engage him into our understanding. The horses listened intently with their eyes and ears to our movement, our emotions and our tones.

Scott Brodie states “Horses exhibit and survive by instincts which for 50 million years have served them well. There is ample opportunity for humans, when placed in a position where they have to communicate with these majestic, and on the surface completely different beings to get in touch with their primitive, but incredibly similar and influential instinctive responses.” Our natural tendencies to survive trauma are still within us. Until this week, our anxious minds and traumatised souls seemed to rule the day. Then we met with a horse. We dropped our shoulders. We steadied and opened our body. We calmed our being. The past withered away, future losses vanished, the present moment encapsulated within confidence and empathy creating mutual respect. Then, in the midst of that arena, an incredible connection happened: a dual heartbeat joined as one.

5 September 2015